The following is a transcript of Jim's testimony before the House Committee on Education and Labor Thursday morning regarding the impact of concussions on high school athletes:
Chairman Miller and Representative Kline, members of the committee, good morning. Thank you for your leadership on this important issue of The Impact of Concussions on High School Athletes.
"Athletes First, Winning Second." That phrase is the foundation of the American Sport Education Program. My name is Jim Schmutz and I am the Executive Director of ASEP, a division of Human Kinetics. ASEP has been the leading provider of coach education for youth sport and scholastic coaches since 1981. Since that time, more than one million coaches have taken part in our courses.
In 1990 ASEP joined forces with the National Federation of High Schools to develop an instructional program that is responsible for educating over 600,000 coaches in the principles of coaching and sport first aid. Our primary coaching text, Successful Coaching, is the best selling general coaching text over the past 30 years and has received critical acclaim by both the educational community and coaches in the trenches.
Clearly, the incidence and the prevalence of sport-related concussions is a matter that we in ASEP feel compelled to address. The 2009 Yard and Comstock study revealed that there were an estimated 395,274 concussions sustained by high school athletes nationally in 9 sports from 2005 to 2008. Concussion rates were highest in football among boys and softball for girls.
Perhaps the most alarming finding was that 15.8% of football players with the most severe (Grade III) concussions returned to play less than one day after incurring the injury. The authors of the study concluded that too many adolescent athletes are not adhering to recommended return-to-play guidelines, and that coaches, sports medicine professionals, parents, and sports administrators must work together more effectively to ensure athletes follow recommended guidelines.
The problem is that those who are most often closest to the athletes when concussions occur, of significant influence in determining their condition, and a key figure in their return to action - coaches - are seldom prepared to handle this responsibility. And, even less frequently is a clearly defined and understood program in place within school's athletic departments to deal with concussion injuries.
At the national level ASEP and other organizations like the National Federation of High Schools, the American Football Coaches Association, the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association, ImPACT a premier provider of computerized neurocognitive assessment tools and services used by medical professionals are all working with the CDC to perpetuate change at the grassroots level. At the state level state high school associations and athletic directors associations are doing similar work. The Pennsylvania State Athletic Directors Association under the leadership of Executive Director Bob Buckanavage has forged an alliance that can serve as a model for other states across the country. By including the full range of state leaders from School Boards Association, Elementary and Secondary School Principal to the Department of Education, Bob has engaged all key stakeholders for the sake of the high school athletes across the state. This includes attention to concussion as part of a broader agenda to ensure a safe and meaningful high school sports experience. The best evidence of success related to concussions is the fact that they have more high schools than any other state engaged in using concussion assessment tools through their relationship with Pittsburgh based ImPACT.
No evidence would suggest that coaches, in general, are derelict in their duty to provide for the safety of their athletes. What is clear is that, in the case of what are often less apparent and cumulative injuries like concussion, the uninformed and untrained coach is overmatched by the role he or she is expected to play.
The good news is more resources exist to prevent and manage concussions today than ever before. At every turn the CDC is connected with these other organizations in partnering to address this very serious health issue of epidemic proportion. Initially launched in 2005, the "Heads Up: Concussion in High School Sports" initiative continues to grow under the leadership of Kelly Sarmiento at the CDC. The materials were developed for high school coaches, athletic directors, athletic trainers, parents, and athletes with the goal of raising awareness and improving prevention, recognition, and response to concussion. What's also encouraging CDC continues to revise materials the latest version scheduled to be released this summer.
ASEP believes, that systematic education is critical and we are working hard to address the need to enhance and expand concussion education by revising the Sport First Aid course to include more comprehensive current information on concussion management with the intention of providing access to the full range of CDC resources. By incorporating more concussion management education into the Sport First Aid course coaches in states like California where they are required to be first aid certified will benefit without added expense.
We have a serious problem in this country and need to do better. While it is clear that there is no shortage of resources, we also know that we have a great deal of work ahead of us. We need to perpetuate a culture of athlete and safety first. We need to take advantage of the CDC and other resources in the process of formally educating coaches so that they can implement preventive measures to reduce the incidence of concussions and be better equipped recognize and manage concussions when they do occur.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to appear before you today. And always remember: Athletes First, Winning Second.