TRENTON – The return to school also means a return to highly-competitive sports, prompting the need for student-athletes across New Jersey to heed caution, especially in contact sports such as football and soccer.

The New Jersey Speech-Language-Hearing Association (NJSHA) believes that caution begins with the youth sports coach and parents, who must be aware of all risks and develop a safe sport culture that lowers the risk of concussion and other common head injuries. Strict enforcement of the rules is paramount, with nearly 8 million boys and girls in the nation playing on high school sports teams in the coming school year.

In sports like football, student-athletes often take unfortunate hits to the head, commonly with illegal play that includes checking, tackling or colliding with an unprotected opponent.  

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Coaches and parents must teach good sportsmanship, with all parties acknowledging that there is much more to school-related sports than the final score. As many as 25 percent of the concussions reported among high school athletes result from aggressive or illegal play, reports the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

“Our big concern is that many student-athletes are sustaining head injuries, but are not reporting it or seeking care,” said Kathy Palatucci, of NJSHA. “These kids are worried they could lose their spots on the team or could let their teammates down. That is why coaches and parents must teach student-athletes the dangers of concussion, and the life-long implications.”

No-tolerance policies must be instituted. If a student-athlete sustains a head injury, he or she must immediately be taken out of play and not return without medical clearance and full parent involvement.

The CDC reports that as many as 70 percent of student-athletes will attempt to hide concussion symptoms and keep on playing. Out of that number, four in 10 student-athletes hide the injury from their coach.

“We implore coaches, parents and student-athletes to learn all the facts,” said Barbara Schwerin-Bohus, of NJSHA.  “Almost all concussions involve a headache. Many sufferers report dizziness, trouble with concentration and confusion. Look to see if the student-athlete may be bothered by light o experiencing nausea. They are all dangerous symptoms and require removal from the field and medical attention.”