Ottawa health summit examines the changing culture of safety in youth sport

 

 
 
 
 
File photo of minor hockey players at the Scotiabank Girls HockeyFest.
 
 

File photo of minor hockey players at the Scotiabank Girls HockeyFest.

Photograph by: Ashley Fraser, Ottawa Citizen

At a health summit on Thursday, former professional athletes and experts discussed the changing culture of safety in youth sport, where a growing awareness around the perils of head injuries is keeping some kids at home and off the field. 

The summit took place in a condo tower just past the west end zone of TD Place stadium, where the issues examined went far beyond Sunday’s Grey Cup game.

Three separate expert panels discussed a range of items related to sport safety. In one, Hockey Canada vice president of member services Glen McCurdie explained how the national hockey body has a vested interest in making the game safe.

It wants to keep players enjoying the sport for life.

“If you look at putting your son or daughter into a sport, safety is the key issue,” McCurdie said.

“We’re looking at declining enrollment in our sport, especially in male hockey. We’ve got four or five things that could be considered barriers to sport and safety is one of them.”

Other panelists included former world champion skier Kate Pace Lindsay, rower and triathlete Angella Goran and retired NHL player Nathan Lafayette.

Lafayette, who left hockey after suffering a concussion in the minors in 2000, believes the game has come a long way with injury protocols since he broke into the NHL in 1993 with the St. Louis Blues.

“Return to play was up to the player,” Lafayette said, citing an example of a fractured sternum early in his career. “You’d meet the coach and he would say, ‘Hey, can you go?’ You’d say, ‘Well, I will try it in practice.’ You go out and give it a shot.

“Guess what? I was a horrible player with a broken sternum. It didn’t work.”

Years later, playing for the Los Angeles Kings, Lafayette was dealing with one of several concussion injuries and figured he would return to play the old school way, on his terms. But no.

“To this day I thank Dr. (Michael) Mellman with the Kings,” Lafayette says.

“He said, ‘No, you’re not ready’ … that helped me avoid possibly a worse injury.”

Goran and Pace Lindsay, who once won a world championship race while skiing with a fractured arm, expressed the need for communication and medical support.

“It comes down to being surrounded by the right people, listening to your coach and building that trust to know that recovery is equally as important (as competing),” Goran said.

Lafayette addressed another key stakeholder: the parent.

“Parents generally like to download that responsibility to an organization or a coaching staff, but the parent knows their child better than anybody,” Lafayette said.

“You see them limping, that’s an issue. They’re cranky and out of sorts, then that’s an issue maybe with concussion.”

Playing with a concussion is akin to navigating in a fog, from Lafayette’s experience.

“When you are at your best as a professional athlete … the game slows down and you know what’s happening in advance,” he said.

“And when you are concussed it is the exact opposite. You are constantly trying to catch up to what’s going on around you.

“It’s a helpless feeling. You can skate up and down the wing and stay out of the way, but when it comes to actually making plays and anticipating where you should be it becomes difficult.”

Once, Lafayette was hit so hard in a game, he got to one knee and couldn’t figure out which team bench was his. He finally looked down at his own jersey to recognize he should return to the New York Rangers bench, and not to the Quebec Nordiques.

The first annual Player’s Health Summit was put on by the private company, playershealth.com, which collects detailed injury data for use by sports clubs and schools. 

wscanlan@postmedia.com
twitter/@hockeyscanner

 
 
 
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File photo of minor hockey players at the Scotiabank Girls HockeyFest.
 

File photo of minor hockey players at the Scotiabank Girls HockeyFest.

Photograph by: Ashley Fraser, Ottawa Citizen

 
File photo of minor hockey players at the Scotiabank Girls HockeyFest.
File photo of minor hockey players at the Scotiabank Girls HockeyFest.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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