Putting player safety first

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ALPHARETTA, Ga. – Youth sports have much to offer children: a sense of belonging, opportunities to build character and an enjoyable means to stay physically fit.

The game of football in particular is often cited as “the ultimate team sport” from which countless lessons on teamwork, responsibility and achievement are gained.

There is, however, growing parental concern over the safety of youth sports and in particular the high-profile topic of sports-related concussions among young athletes.

Alpharetta Youth Football Association (AYFA) Board members are moms and dads themselves and recognize that there is nothing more important than the well-being of children.

AYFA administers a progressive and comprehensive player safety program covering all age levels in the flag football, tackle football and cheer programs.

As a certified league in USA Football’s “Heads Up Football” initiative, the coaching staffs of each AYFA team are annually recertified for critical player safety training through programs such as “Heads Up Tackling,” a program teaching the fundamentals of safe tackling.

AYFA coaches are also annually certified for safety in heat and hydration awareness and concussion prevention, recognition and response.

Among the greatest dangers to young athletes is the risk of practicing or playing with an undiagnosed concussion or returning to the field of play too soon after sustaining a concussion.

AYFA’s entire concussion awareness program is geared toward immediate recognition and appropriate response.

In the event of a concussion, AYFA follows strict return-to-play guidelines, and their player safety personnel oversee a progressive return-to-play protocol under the guidance of the athlete’s physician.

Each team in AYFA has a designated safety coach responsible for reinforcing elements of the player safety program. Safety coaches are granted the authority to remove a player from the field of play at any time for evaluation.

Typical signs of concussion that would lead a safety coach to remove a player from the field for evaluation include a dazed or stunned appearance, confusion or poor balance.

Also, if a player is experiencing signs of dehydration such as lightheadedness or cramps, they will be removed from the field for further evaluation and treatment.

“Our goal is to keep players from reaching these stages by keeping them properly hydrated. A message to parents is that hydration begins at home,” said Kevin Coleman, director of player safety for AYFA. “Making sure that your child stays properly hydrated throughout the day before bringing them to practice or the game goes a long way toward keeping them safe in the heat.”

Beyond annual certification, AYFA provides all safety coaches with additional tools and training to aid in the recognition of concussions.

For the 2014 fall season, every safety coach will have at their disposal the King-Devick Test, which is the leading sideline concussion screening test used extensively in collegiate and professional athletics.

This tool will allow AYFA’s safety coaches to make quick and objective sideline evaluations on whether a player should be removed from play.

The test measures the eye movements of players by timing how quickly they can accurately read a series of numbers from a set of cards.

If the time it takes a player to read a set of numbers is longer than a pre-measured baseline time, it is a good indication of a concussion.

“We are excited about using the King-Devick Test beginning this season, as it gives us one more layer of protection,” said Coleman.

AYFA will provide for preseason baseline testing of players administered by the Sports Concussion Institute.

Baseline testing is an important part of concussion treatment as it provides physicians with an objective measurement of a player’s neurocognitive abilities pre-injury.

SCI will administer baseline tests for AYFA using a tool called ImPACT before the athletic season begins. ImPACT is the leading assessment tool commonly used at the high school, collegiate and professional levels.

“As a society, we have come to realize the danger we put our children in when we don’t take concussions and heat and hydration issues seriously,” said Coleman. “Both of my children play sports, and as a parent, I am glad that my children are competing in an era in which we are rallying to protect young athletes.”

AYFA has served Alpharetta, Milton, Roswell, Johns Creek and surrounding communities for over 40 years, hosting more than 30 teams annually in flag and tackle football from grades K-8.

AYFA strives to impart positive life lessons taught by football and cheerleading to participating youth in a fun and safe environment.

For more information or to register, visit AYFA’s website at www.alpharettayouthfootball.com.

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