Keep your head out of the game—Queen’s coaches are proactively preventing head trauma and CTE injuries by making moves towards safer sports.
Over the past few decades, studies surrounding contact sports have revealed detrimental effects resulting from head injuries, which greatly inhibit both the development and cognitive functions of the brain.
Sports like football, hockey, and rugby have faced increased scrutiny regarding the ways team doctors and coaches diagnose and treat head injuries to ensure adequate care of athlete’s brains.
More recently, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) has been the focal point of concussion prevention and research. CTE is a neurodegenerative disorder thought to be caused by repeated brain traumas, which are commonly associated with contact sports. Often going unnoticed, CTE has been linked to emotional, physical, and other cognitive impairments, with symptoms manifesting years or decades after the initial trauma.
One of the major issues with diagnosing and treating CTE is that it can only be diagnosed through a brain tissue analysis, which can only be conducted after death. It requires slicing into the brain and dying it with chemicals that highlight abnormal brain tissue.
I had the chance to sit down with Steve Snyder, head coach of the Gael’s Men’s Football team, to investigate how much weight the football team places on keeping their players safe.
“Player safety is at the forefront of our game, and whatever we can do here at Queen’s to be a national leader in that area, we’re going to continue to do,” Snyder said. “We want to grow what we believe is the greatest game on Earth.”
Although head contact seems to be natural across all contact sports, Snyder emphasized the investments the Gaels make to protect their players.
“The big initiative we’ve taken this year is we’ve purchased Guardian caps for all of our players. They wear those in practice, which is an additional padding that slips over top of the helmet that the NFL uses, the CFL uses, and a lot of Division One NCAA teams use,” he explained. “It was a significant investment, but well worth it.”
Snyder assured me that Gaels coaching and medical staff have a layered approach to rehabilitating injured players, which they’re confident accurately assesses an athlete’s susceptibility to further trauma.
The Gaels coaching staff use this approach to slowly work injured Gaels back into the intensity of football, without dramatically exposing them to the explosive hits that frequent the sport.
While you’ll never separate brain-rattling hits from contact sports, increasing education related to traumatic brain injuries allows players, coaches and medical staff to be more proactive in, and better respond to their treatment of brain injuries.
“We’ve went as far as having an impact study done here before where the players wore a chip sensor in their helmets, in practice and in games to measure impact,” Snyder said. “We’re able to use that data to make things safer in the future, and monitor players as things are happening.”
Overall, while concussions are nearly unavoidable in contact sports, I’d say Gaels athletes are in good hands that prioritize negating the long term effects concussions can have on the human brain.
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