High school sport participation has grown from an estimated 4 million participants during the 1971-1972 school year to an estimated 7.2 million participants for the 2005-2006 school year. The increase of participants over this time frame concurrently results in an increased number of injuries for youth sport participants. For example, high school athletes account for an estimated 2 million injuries, 500,000 doctor visits and 30,000 hospitalizations annually in the United States. A study conducted by the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital discovered 41 percent of 1,300 athletes who had experienced a concussion-like symptom returned to competition too soon.
Three years ago, Zackery Lystedt was a typical 13-year-old student and athlete at Tahoma Junior High School in Maple Valley. He was playing on the football team. During a game that fall Zackery took a hard hit not all that unusual for junior high football. While Zackery felt rattled after the hit, he decided to “shake it off” and twice returned to play in the game without informing the coach about his injury. But 60 seconds after the game was over, Zackery collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. It was later discovered that Zackery had suffered a traumatic brain injury and was hemorrhaging. Although Zackery survived he was in a coma for months and required intensive therapy before he was able to eat or speak on his own. Three years after the incident, limitations have had no bounds as the Lystedt family has fought extensively to rectify the issue of concussion-related injuries in youth sport.
In March the state House of Representatives passed the Zackery Lystedt law, the most stringent youth sport concussion prevention law in the country. The Lystedt law requires that a youth athlete who experiences a concussion or head injury during a contest to be removed from play, no questions asked. Only once the athlete is cleared by a licensed health care professional can he or she return to full-time athletic competition. The “when in doubt, sit them out” policy also requires all school districts to work with the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) to develop guidelines and informational forms to educate coaches, youth athletes and their parents of the nature and risk of concussions and head injuries. Athletes cannot participate until an informed consent is signed by the parent and the participant, acknowledging the risk of head injury prior to practice or competition.
The Zackery Lystedt Law is the most significant youth sports bill to be passed in recent history and should be supported throughout the United States. This bill addresses the critical need for improvement with regards to youth sport injuries and should have been passed years ago.
Since football is such a violent sport in general, it is critical that all states pass a law similar to the Lystedt Law in order to address the issue of concussion-related injuries in youth sport. The most important aspect of the policy is educating coaches, players and parents to become more familiar with brain-related injuries and what can be done to prevent more of these injuries in the future.
By requiring all participants to sign a consent form acknowledging the risk of concussion-related injury, this policy puts a clear emphasis on the participant to be upfront with their coaches with regard to any type of injury suffered during an athletic contest.
Since there are over 250 high schools in the state of Washington alone, there are numerous opportunities for another major concussion-related injury to occur. It is essential for all youth sport organizations to implement a policy such as the Lystedt Law, in order to prevent the possibility of more injuries in the future.
Just recently the Tahoma School District settled with the Lystedt family for a reported $14 million, enough to cover the medical costs Zackery may need for the rest of his life due to the permanent disability of his injury.
If the Lystedt Law was in place during the time of the incident, Zackery’s life would have been remarkably different because he would not have been allowed to play after the first major hit he took, because he had experienced a concussion-like symptom. This policy gives coaches the ability to become fully educated on a serious injury which can easily be prevented with proper resources such as the Guidelines on Concussion Management on the WIAA website. With proper education, coaches should use these resources to educate their players on how to recognize these symptoms and to constantly communicate with each other in order to prevent these incidents from occurring in the future.
In conclusion, the Zackery Lystedt incident was one all too common with regards to injuries in youth sport, especially in the sport of football. I had played junior high sports at the very same school and for the same coach as Zackery so my perspective is somewhat similar. The pressure of competing for a spot on a junior high team is highly competitive and all too important if you want to be playing consistently. The external pressure from parents, coaches and peers makes it tough to recognize what is more important for a student-athlete.
Personally I would have never told my coach if I wasn’t feeling too well just because I took a hard hit on the football field. Once you’re in the heat of the moment, the competition and the ability to win becomes the most important thing in the world. The Zackery Lystedt Law is not only important for becoming educated about brain-related injuries, but also by creating a line of communication between the player, coach and parent to better recognize what is most important in a young student-athletes life.
Sports Management Major
Washington State University
Class of 2010