In a recent speech at the Harvard School of Public Health, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke of the cultural shift needed within the league to help reduce the risk of head injuries and significant brain traumas.
“Changing the culture in a way that reduces the injury risk to the maximum possible extent — especially the risk of head injury,” he said. “We want players to enjoy long and prosperous careers and healthy lives off the field. So we focus relentlessly on player health and safety, while also keeping the game fun and unpredictable.”
I am passionate about bringing more awareness to the issues of brain health and what we can be doing to improve cognitive performance – not just for professional athletes but for athletes of all ages.
Fear has been a common theme in the discussion of concussions in athletes – particularly in our youth. Dr. Robert Cantu recently published an editorial in The New York Times where he argued that children under the age of 14 should not be playing tackle football, heading a soccer ball should be against the rules until age 14, body checking should be banned in ice hockey until age 14 and headfirst slides should be eliminated in youth baseball and softball.
While the conversation about concussions and their effects is a good one to have, it should not be clouded by overwhelming fear. Here are my thoughts on this often controversial subject.
I am inspired by the words of a Navy SEAL with whom I recently worked.
“Advances in modern medicine, science, and exercise physiology have taken our athletes to accomplishments that ten years ago were considered impossible. Ussan Bolt ran faster than any human alive at the Olympic games. Mark Inglis climbed Mount Everest on two prosthetic legs. We are growing stronger, and going faster, longer and higher than ever before.
Do you realize that the winner of a contest whether it is physical or mental is the one that has endured the most pain in training? The champions of the world are the ones that accept the idea that no matter the cost they will sacrifice everything to win. Champions want to be champions, and winners are winners no matter what they are doing at the time. How far can we take the ability of our brains if we actually focused on training it like we do our bodies?
My training at the Center for BrainHealth taught me many things. One, that anyone can think smarter. Two, you can join the fight sharper than before. Three, none more important than this, I will not fail, and I can be better, stronger and smarter. Why? Because it’s up to me, and I will succeed."
We can achieve far greater good by training the brain in health and by repairing and retraining the brain after injury – even years after injury than by banning sports. Team sports provide positive benefits for individuals of all ages; team sports are a cost effective avenue and training ground for socialization, fun and important life lessons. Sports may be one of the most important activities to promote physical activity and to counteract the vulnerability and risk of addiction which is becoming all too common in early adolescence. The conversation surrounding concussions must change from one of fear, doom and gloom to one of resilience, recovery, safety and hope.