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Protect Children from Sports-Related Head Injuries

Youth sports can help to instill important values and provide benefits to children. Kids have fun, get exercise, learn to be part of a team and learn about sportsmanship.

But sports-related injuries, including traumatic brain injuries such as concussions, can occur in any sport or recreational activity. Parents and coaches play key roles in preventing concussions and knowing how to respond when they occur.

Safety Ratings for Leagues

A new rating system called the Safe Stars Initiative allows parents to check and see if youth sports leagues in Tennessee follow state-recommended safety procedures.

The program was created by the Tennessee Department of Health and the Program for Injury Prevention in Youth Sports (PIPYS) at The Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt. Safe Stars is the nation’s first statewide safety rating system for all types of youth leagues. Participation by sports leagues is voluntary.

Coaches and parents can encourage their sports leagues to join the initiative and boost the commitment to safety in youth sports.

Visit the Tennessee Department of Health to get more information on the Safe Stars Initiative.

What’s a Concussion?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says a concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head. A concussion can also be caused by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth.

You can’t see a concussion. Signs and symptoms of concussion can show up right after the injury or may not appear or be noticed until days or weeks after the injury—even after a mild “ding” to the head.

Each year in Tennessee, about 8,000 people are admitted to the hospital with a brain injury. Children ages 0-4, adolescents 15-19, and adults 65 and older are the most likely age groups to sustain a traumatic brain injury—and the majority of these cases are concussions. Young children and teens take longer to recover from a concussion than adults.

Concussions are usually not life-threatening, but they are serious and can have long-lasting effects. If you think a child may have a concussion, always seek medical attention right away.

Signs and Symptoms

If a child has a bump or blow to the head or body during a game or activity, look for signs of a concussion. For example, does the child appear dazed or confused about their assignment or position? Are they having headaches? Are they getting upset or having problems with vomiting? Late symptoms of concussions may also include difficulty concentrating, grouchy and moody behavior, and trouble sleeping. Find more signs and symptoms.

Steps to Take After a Concussion

1. Seek medical attention right away. A healthcare professional will be able to decide how serious the concussion is and when it is safe for the child to return to sports.

2. Keep the child out of play. Concussions take time to heal. Don’t let the child return to play until a healthcare professional says it’s OK. Children who return to play too soon—while the brain is still healing—risk a greater chance of having a second concussion. Concussions that occur after the first concussion may be very serious and could cause permanent brain damage.

3. Tell the child’s coach about any recent concussion. Coaches should know if a child had a recent concussion in ANY sport. The child’s coach may not know about a concussion a child received in another sport or activity unless you mention it.

How to Help Prevent a Concussion

Every sport and activity is different, but here are steps that can help protect kids from a concussion.

  • Make sure they follow their coach’s rules for safety and the rules of the sport.
  • Encourage them to practice good sportsmanship at all times.
  • Make sure they wear the right protective equipment for their activity (such as helmets, padding, shin guards, and eye and mouth guards). Protective equipment should fit properly and be in good condition.
Learn other injury prevention tips.

Additional Resources

Learn more about concussions and how to prevent them.

Learn about the Tennessee youth sports concussion law, passed in 2013.

The Traumatic Brain Injury Program was established by the Tennessee General Assembly to address the needs of people who have a brain injury.