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Effectiveness of a State's Youth-Concussion Law Studied

Now that Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant has signed his state's youth-concussion legislation into law, every state has some form of youth-concussion legislation.

Are those laws actually changing behaviors? That's what a new paper published online earlier this month in The American Journal of Sports Medicine sought to determine.

For the paper, the authors surveyed 270 public high school football, girls' soccer, and boys' soccer coaches in Washington state—the first state to implement youth-concussion legislation (the Zackery Lystedt Law)—from 2012 to 2013. They asked coaches about the amount of required concussion education for coaches, parents, and athletes, and also evaluated the coaches' knowledge of concussions.

All but three of the coaches said they were required to undergo concussion education (98.9 percent), and 198 were unable to coach until completing such training (74.4 percent). Of the 264 coaches who answered a question about the frequency of their concussion education, 248 said they had to complete it annually (93.9 percent).

In terms of the modalities in which concussion education was provided, 243 of 267 coaches engaged in at least two different forms (91.0 percent), ranging from written, video, PowerPoint, tests, or in-person sessions. More than 80 percent of the coaches (225 in total) utilized a video from the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, and over 200 coaches took a test from the association (78.1 percent).

Athlete and parent education, on the other hand, was far less extensive than that of the coaches, according to the survey's findings. Per the terms of the Lystedt Law, all parents and student-athletes must sign a concussion information form before the athlete is allowed to participate in sports. However, only 241 coaches said they required their athletes to sign the form (89.3 percent), while 218 of 263 said they required the same from parents (82.9 percent).

A number of coaches did not provide any further concussion education beyond the form, with 79 of 268 not doing so for athletes (29.5 percent) and 147 of 254 giving parents no additional information (57.9 percent). Of the coaches who did provide additional education, 96 only utilized one modality for athletes (35.8 percent), and 66 did the same for parents (26.0 percent).

In terms of the coaches' scope of concussion experience and education, 96.2 percent said they were at least somewhat comfortable determining whether an athlete needed further concussion evaluation. Roughly 75 percent of coaches had at least one athlete sustain a concussion in the most recent season (from when they were surveyed), and 42.5 percent had anywhere from two to five athletes sustain a concussion. Just over half the coaches had heard of the term "graduated return to play," which is the recommended step-by-step return process for any student-athlete who sustains a concussion.

Ultimately, the results "suggest that concussion education requirements for coaches are being closely followed by public high schools " in the state, the authors conclude. They expressed concern about the limited extend of parent and athlete concussion education, but note vague language in the Lystedt Law itself likely played a role.

This paper represents the next major frontier in youth-concussion legislation. Now that every state has a law, it's up to researchers to determine how effective each law is in terms of shaping behaviors.

If a law isn't working as it should, it's up to the state lawmakers and those responsible for enforcing each law to ensure that schools begin following the requirements more closely. Coaches, parents, and athletes also must shoulder the responsibility of demanding and following laws that keep student-athletes safe.

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