Edina coaches and trainers talk about protecting youth athletes from concussions

Youth coaches and trainers lead the way in protecting student athletes from concussions.
Up-to-date equipment helps keep student athletes safe.

“Concussion” is the buzzword in youth sports these days. The high-energy pace and physicality of football, hockey and many other activities make some bumps and bruises inevitable. But some parents and coaches feel heightened anxiety about concussions—partly due to high-profile cases of professional athletes who’ve suffered ongoing memory loss, and worse, after repeated head injuries throughout their years playing sports.

“Those stories are trickling down to us at the high school level,” says Steve Tschida, Edina High School’s certified athletic trainer. Now that experts are learning more about the long-term effects of concussions, youth coaches and parents are taking a proactive approach. “Our goal is to prevent more significant or permanent brain injuries,” Tschida says.

So are we really seeing a rise in the number of youth-sports concussions? “Yes and no,” he says. “A big part of [the increase] is more…awareness and education. We’re having kids now communicate after a blow to the head, or recognizing their own symptoms.” On the other hand, Tschida notes, the intensity of youth sports certainly hasn’t decreased over the years. “Kids are bigger, stronger and faster … so there are a variety of contributing factors on the rise.”

All youth coaches in Minnesota are now required by law to complete a Centers for Disease Control (CDC)concussion training session, which helps them identify symptoms and guide kids through appropriate treatment. At Edina High School, administrators and coaches have taken their preparedness to the next level: All student athletes are strongly encouraged to undergo baseline testing, called ImPACT, for memory performance and other “brain measures” at the beginning of each athletic season. “That gives us some background data prior to any concussions,” says Troy Stein, EHS activities director. “If there’s a head injury, we’ll do another test and compare the results.”

While some concussion victims exhibit outward physical symptoms such as disorientation or headaches, others have more subtle signs. One EHS athlete, Cullen Raasch, suffered a concussion in 2011 in his sophomore football season. “Luckily, they had done the baseline test,” says Cullen’s mom, Colleen Raasch. “It was pretty alarming to watch him re-test and fail.”

Cullen stuck to a strict rest period after his concussion. In addition to physical rest during his recovery, he needed to avoid cognitive stress, too. That meant no homework, no TV or other “screen time” on his computer or smartphone. “Coaches and teachers [were] always understanding,” says Cullen. “Tschida’s insistence on all athletes taking the ImPACT test as a baseline [is] instrumental in proper healing time.”

That kind of holistic approach is becoming the norm in concussion treatment. And concussion treatment for younger kids is similar to those at the high school level. “We require all of our coaches [to] complete concussion training and provide us a copy of the certificate,” says Sean Faeth, director of the travel baseball division with Edina Baseball Association. “This is something we highlight at our annual coaches’ meeting. We take it pretty seriously.”

Faeth also encourages parents to invest in up-to-date equipment, especially helmets, and inspect kids’ gear often for cracks and other blemishes that might decrease effectiveness. He and others are quick to point out that concussions are never 100 percent preventable. But investing in proper equipment, including custom-fit mouth guards, and getting educated about symptoms and proper treatment can help increase player safety.

Where do coaches and trainers see the most concussions? Here’s a breakdown of Edina High School’s concussions in the 2012-2013 school year:

Football: 10
Hockey: 8
Cheerleading: 8
Soccer: 6
Basketball: 6
Synchronized swimming: 4
Gymnastics, alpine ski, lacrosse: 1 each


For general information about concussions, visit cdc.gov/concussion.