Focus on Building Player Brain Resilience, Not Changing Football
Football doesn't need to be altered, but brain resilience must be built
February 1, 2013
There is no need to fundamentally change the game of football. However, we need to make it safer and fully recognize that concussions are brain injuries. Similar to physical injuries, building brain resilience and rebounding from injuries is possible. Thanks to vastly improved brain imaging and sensitive diagnostic testing, more accurate diagnosis and intensive brain training with careful monitoring for both short and long-term effects must be employed.
Protocol: Continuously refine and update protocols for youth and professional teams based on rapidly evolving brain evidence. Comprehensive, not simple, brain assessments are needed before and at season end. Players should receive high performance brain training prior to season opening and off season to strengthen capacity, rebuild, and repair any lost capacity similar to rigorous physical training. Return to play rules must be enacted if a brain injury is suspected and proper medical attention and evaluation from brain experts should be sought. Two weeks out of play is a small price to pay which could allow years more of successful play and increased potential for productive life after sports.
Education and Research: Proper equipment and use can always be advanced without changing the game. Take the composition of helmets or turf. Helmets made of nanofibers could in the near-term provide a lighter, softer, and more force absorbing helmet to reduce concussive effects. No headgear fully protects the brain; players, parents, trainers, coaches must understand both the short- and long-term ramifications of brain injuries. Additionally, athletes must be taught how to safely tackle with dummies to reduce brain injuries during practice. Emotional disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and aggressive behavior have been linked to repeated concussions. Long-term monitoring and active treatment to mitigate suicidal and culpable behavior is important.
Brain Breakthrough: In the last five years, scientists have proven that more can be done to build and repair brain performance than any other part of the body. By harnessing the brain's plasticity (ability to be strengthened, rewired), new research demonstrates the brain can be reinforced to build resilience, and rewired and regenerated after brain injury. Training athletes cannot stop at the neck; brain and cognitive function must be factors in the overall health equation.
Fundamentally, America's favorite sport of football does not need to be dramatically altered. The change needs to focus on putting brain resilience and repair up front and central to the issue of the safety of football.