June 12, 2013

US Lacrosse Joins NFL's Roundtable Discussion on Youth Sports Safety

by Paul Ohanian | LaxMagazine.com

Commissioner Roger Goodell joined bloggers and national governing body leaders during an information sharing forum hosted by the NFL on Tuesday, June 11.
Photo credit: NFL

NEW YORK — "We're trying to do everything we can to make our sports safer."

Those were among the words of welcome from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to participants at a one-day roundtable on youth sports safety, hosted Tuesday by the National Football League at its New York headquarters.

Goodell shared some of his own experiences from youth sports participation, including the life lessons learned and the intrinsic benefits and values of sports participation. Now, as a parent of 11-year old twin daughters who play soccer and lacrosse, he would like to see his children also benefit from similar sports experiences, within the parameters of the safest environment possible.

"Sport teaches our kids a lot and we need to do what we can to keep it up," Goodell said. "It's up to us to make it better and to share what we know to make the games safer."

That was the underlying tone of Tuesday's event, in which leaders from seven national governing bodies – including US Lacrosse – came together with invited social media representatives and bloggers
for an information sharing and gathering roundtable. Goodell wants the NFL to serve as a facilitator in furthering the proper safety messages.

"We want to do our part to get the correct information out there," said Goodell, who joined the NFL as an intern in 1982 and became commissioner of the multi-billion dollar enterprise in 2006.

Ann Carpenetti, managing director of game administration at US Lacrosse, presented the audience with an overview of the organization's safety initiatives, including multi-level coaches and officials' certification programs, research efforts to better understand injury mechanisms, and rules standardization priorities and adoption of best practices.

She also noted US Lacrosse's efforts to bring about impactful changes in safety behavior at the youngest levels of the game.

"The youth level is where we can make the most meaningful changes," Carpenetti said. "We have great opportunities but also great challenges."

That sentiment was shared by other organizations as well.

Kevin McLaughlin, senior director of hockey development with USA Hockey, told the audience constant rules changes in hockey are a necessary practice in making the game safer. Unfortunately, those changes don't always receive uniform support from the membership base. Removing full body checking from 11-and 12-year old hockey was a case in point.

"Initially, we received a lot of venomous feedback, but I think it was the vocal minority," McLaughlin said. "Our end goal is healthier kids."

Decisions that change traditional practices, even when made in the name of safety, can be difficult for some to accept.

A few years ago, Little League Baseball eliminated the on-deck position to enhance safety among its players. While initially met with resistance, president and CEO Stephen Keener said that now, "they don't even miss it."

Learning from each other was a common theme among the national youth organizations.

"It's interesting to hear what other sports are doing and about the resources they are committing to safety initiatives," said Bruce Griffin, director of health and sport safety at US Lacrosse who also attended the event.

"It's exciting to hear others talk about individual player education, coaches' education and training," McLaughlin said. "Those are huge undertakings."

Balancing the rewards of youth sports participation against the injury risk of participation can be difficult. Parents need to understand the critical role they play in ensuring sports safety for their kids.

Many of the presenters noted the importance of having parents asking questions and understanding the affiliation of their child's team or league with a national organization. More than focusing on the level of competition, parents should know if coaches must pass criminal background checks, or if the league has a protocol for dealing with concussions and other injuries.

"What is the organization doing to protect my child from a sexual predator? That's the first question I would ask," said Keener in response to one blogger's question.

"Be a wise consumer and do your due diligence," said Jim Cosgrove, executive director US Youth Soccer.

Dr. Elizabeth Pieroth, a neuropsychologist with NorthShore University (Ill.) Health System and head injury consultant to the Chicago Bears and Chicago Blackhawks, served as event moderator. She noted that it's easy for parents to get sidetracked by things like a team's winning pedigree or level of competition.

"We forget about why we want to have kids engaged in sport," Pieroth said. "We need make sure it's in a safe fashion."

Having the NFL throw its considerable marketing muscle into the cause of youth safety was favorably viewed by participants. Presenting organizations included Little League Baseball, USA Basketball, USA Cheer, USA Football, USA Hockey, and US Youth Soccer, in addition to US Lacrosse.

"I like the role that the NFL has taken and the fact that they brought all these other sports together," said Lamar Tyler, founding partner of the blog site www.blackandmarriedwithkids.com.

"There's a lot of hope here when a group meets at a roundtable," said Brooke de Lench, publisher of MomsTEAM.com.

All agree that there is more work to be done.

"This really is a process of having people who are parents trying to help other parents know how to make the best decisions about safe programs for their kids," Griffin said.

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