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Sports Legacy Institute Proposes 'Hit Count' for Youth Athletes

The Boston-based Sports Legacy Institute is calling for all youth sports organizations to alter their playing rules and limit the amount of head contact that student-athletes endure, in a white paper released today.

Much like how youth baseball has put pitchers on a "pitch count" to reduce the wear-and-tear on their elbows, the SLI suggests putting youth athletes on a "hit count" to reduce the risk of concussion and long-term brain damage.

"While most [youth] programs have taken positive steps on the concussion issue, few if any are actively working to limit exposure to sub-concussive brain trauma," the SLI says in the white paper. "Today, children are exposed to levels of brain trauma that are considered dangerous and unacceptable for adults."

A study released by the University of Rochester last November suggested that minor, routine hits to the head could cause long-term brain damage in youth athletes, even if those hits don't cause concussions. And a July study from Brain Pathology suggested that one traumatic brain injury (TBI), such as a concussion, could cause permanent damage in the brains of youth athletes.

Meanwhile, recent data from the Center from Disease Control and Prevention show a 60 percent increase in the number of reported student-athlete traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) over the past eight years.

The SLI acknowledges that gaps in sports-related concussion research still remain, but says that a reduction in the number of hits is a no-brainer (pardon the pun).

"As with most public health problems, we must make policy decisions before we have absolute knowledge of the issue, as we have with smoking policy," they say.

According to their white paper, youth football players may average around 1,000 hits to the head per season, with the mean hit coming at a force of around 20 g's. Youth hockey players sustain only a fraction of that number, but the authors say some young male hockey players may experience upwards of 1,000 hits to the head in a season.

The SLI, in response, proposes that no athlete under 18 years of age "be exposed to more than 1,000 hits to the head exceeding 10 g's of force in a season, and no more than 2,000 times in a year. Many youth athletes already exceed this high threshold, and would not be allowed to finish a season."

They hope to have major youth sports organizations adopt their "hit count" policy by 2013, according to the white paper. They plan on meeting with experts and the sports organizations to devise a way to successfully implement their proposal in the coming year.

The SLI was founded back in 2007 in response to sports' concussion crisis, and partnered with Boston University in 2008 to form the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy.

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