Injuries are, for the most part, an accepted consequence of participating in youth sports. Beginning as early as pre-school age, kids are encouraged to participate in sports as a good way to help them learn about socialization, competition, and fitness.

Broken bones almost always heal. So do sprains and bruises. But parents, coaches, and kids are learning too often that bumps on the head must be taken more seriously. Brain injuries, including concussions, can have long-lasting effects that make it difficult to concentrate, focus, and remember important details.

That was the case for soccer goalie Ruby Fitzer, who had to quit playing the game she loved after suffering her fourth concussion. But she, and her parents, knew they had to make that difficult decision because they realized that the cumulative effect of the concussions could eventually lead to long-term damage.

“I loved playing soccer and I miss it all the time,” she said. “I’ve had too many head injuries, and the risks of playing outweigh the benefits.”

She said she suffered at school, with a lack of focus and increased headaches. Her vision blurred, and she couldn’t concentrate on her schoolwork.

Eddie Reynolds, executive director of the Brain Injury Alliance of Kentucky (BIAK), said the brain must be allowed to heal after an injury. He said a concussion is like a short in the brain’s wiring, and it needs to rest both physically and cognitively to heal. That means no computer, TV, or phone activity while in recovery.

“If a young person receives a second concussion, it can cause catastrophic damage. Removal from play is important. You have to get over the mindset that you just have to suck it up and be tough. You’ve only got one brain, and it’s important to take care of it,” he said.

His advice to parents, if they suspect a brain injury might have occurred, is to watch their child closely for signs like short-term memory issues, inability to concentrate, and more frequent headaches.

“A concussion is not like other injuries,” he said. “We often focus on the football or soccer player who is carried off the field, but the person playing in the backyard … can fall and suffer a concussion.”

Today, there is more information about brain injuries available than there was in the past, and parents and coaches are more likely to take appropriate action. Reynolds said everyone needs to understand that one game isn’t everything, that a person’s life is more important than any competition.

More parents are becoming aware of the risk. A long-term study released in 2017 found that people who “began playing tackle football before the age of 12 had more behavioral and cognitive problems later in life than those who started playing after they turned 12.”

More information about brain injuries and youth sports is readily available at http://www.kyconcussions.com/, which is the result of a partnership between the Kentucky High School Athletic Association (KHSAA), the U.S. Brain Injury Alliance, Norton Healthcare, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and BIAK.