March is Brain Injury Awareness Month. Brain injuries can be hard to diagnose, treat, and recover from, often leading the affected person to feel isolated and depressed. This year’s theme, the Change Your Mind campaign, provides a platform for educating the general public about the incidence of brain injury and the needs of people with brain injuries and their families. The campaign also lends itself to outreach within the brain injury community to de-stigmatize the injury, empower those who have survived, and promote the many types of support that are available.
As part of Athlete Intelligence's commitment to traumatic brain injury awareness, we will using our platform to interview athletes, advocates, coaches and health care professionals throughout the sports industry to share their experiences with brain injuries.
Today, we're interviewing Tom Ryan, assistant men's lacrosse coach at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York.
How long have you been playing lacrosse?
I started playing lacrosse on a team in 5th grade and played competitively until I was 31.
What excites you about the sport?
The combination of skill, athleticism, aggression and camaraderie necessary to succeed in lacrosse make it a passion and major commitment in my life.
As a coach, how concerned are you about your athletes receiving sports-related injuries?
As a coach I try to take steps to minimize sports-related injuries whenever possible.
Have you or anyone close to you ever had a concussion or other sports-related head injury?
I got my first sports related concussion when I was in elementary school, and got them throughout my sports career. My professional career ended due to concussion related symptoms.
What is your typical protocol handling a concussion? Does your team have a standard 'Return to Play Protocol'?
Anyone suspected of a head injury must consult with an athletic trainer. Athletes sustaining a concussion must go through a 5-step Return to Play Protocol.
What are some of the ways you address the topic of sports safety, especially concussion prevention and awareness, with the athletes you play with?
We try to pace our efforts in practice as not to unnecessarily expose them to injury. We make a strong point when someone makes a dangerous hit in practice. We also introduced “Intensity Levels” to moderate unnecessary injuries.
Level 1. LIVE – Compete with physical play. Avoid reckless body checks or slashes potentially causing injuries.
Level 2. CONTROL – No Slashing, No Cross-checking, No cleanout body-checks, No dangerous/careless shots. Play with intensity.
Level 3. CONTAIN – Focus on body positioning. No initiating body-checks or stick checks to the hands/body.
Level 4. RESTRAIN – Focus on helping others improve. Function over competitiveness.
Do you find that concussions and sports-related brain injuries are misunderstood?
For those who haven’t experiences concussions and their symptoms it may be hard to empathize and understand.
When did you first become aware of the dangers of sports-related brain injuries?
I got two concussions one summer and in retrospect had gotten over the first one leaving me with symptoms lasting a couple months. This prolonged mental lethargy made me nervous of long term affects.
Are you seeking more tools, resources and information in regards to head injury detection and prevention?
I went to see Dr. Robert Cantu one of the premier research psychologists in the field for a consultation. He was able to give me the information and insight I was looking for.
Do you feel like Brain Injuries are overlooked or stigmatized in our society?
Brain Injuries used to be overlooked, but the recent awareness at least in relation to youth, high school and college sports treats the dangers of head injuries appropriately in my opinion.
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