When a high-school football player takes a hard blow to the head, who makes the decision on whether he can stay in the game or practice? Not a doctor, most times. Not the athletes – they almost always want to stay in. Parents? Sometimes, but they're not always on hand.
It's usually the coach – often a teacher who volunteers before or after school. And who designs the practices and decides how often to have full contact, and what kind of contact? The coach.
That's a lot of responsibility and trust placed on a teacher-volunteer's shoulders. And how much do these coaches know about head injuries – and how far are they prepared to go to risk the wrath of the team, parents and athletes themselves in defence of a possibly injured brain?
Last week, Charles Tator, a Toronto neurosurgeon and international leader in head-injury prevention, did a seminar with local high-school football coaches. All youth coaches in contact sports such as football and hockey, and high-impact sports such as soccer, should receive similar in-person training from a brain specialist. The research is moving quickly. New studies show that even repeated subconcussive blows can cause cognitive damage. But the culture of "toughing it out" remains. A session with a well-informed brain specialist can help change that culture, one coach at a time.