Concord Resident Speaks Out on Youth Sports Safety
Brooke de Lench’s interest in sports safety is deep-seated and personal. When she was a high school field hockey player in 1969, she experienced the emotional and psychological abuse that can come from team sports.
“There was neglect, there was politics, there was inappropriate comments from the coaching staff,” she remembers. “But when I really began getting involved was when I had my own sons, in their first teams. I was able to see some of the psychological and emotional abuse, not so much physical. When I really began to see what was going on with them, I made sure that I really talked out on it.”
That’s why de Lench, a Concord resident, founded the MomsTeam Institute, a non-profit that provides sports safety information and advice to parents, coaches, and players. The organization operates MomsTeam.com, an online resource for parents and coaches, and has produced a documentary about making high school football safer, called “The Smartest Team.” The group also ran a sports safety summit at Harvard Medical School in September 2014, and is currently working on a project called SmartTeams, which will produce sport-specific best practices for safety. SmartTeams will also be certifying teams and leagues that comply with those guidelines.
Until SmartTeams hits the mainstream in 2015, de Lench says parents need to ensure that coaching and training staff are prepared and well-educated. “The overarching danger is having a coach that is not trained in the sport, nor is trained in any type of health risk reduction,” she says, noting that health risks run the gamut from concussions to overexertion to heat stroke. “We’re saying kids really do need to have someone who has a medical background on the sidelines if they’re playing a contact sport.”
Educating coaches, players, and parents about concussions specifically—a major health problem for contact sport athletes—is also top of de Lench’s priority list. Along that vein, MomsTeam is working to outfit football players’ helmets with specialized impact sensors that monitor the amount of force behind hits and record that data to a tablet for easy reference. These sensors do not diagnose concussions, de Lench explains, but they can alert coaching staff and parents that a player has sustained a high-risk hit, allowing them to be more cautious moving forward and more likely to identify any eventual concussions.
MomsTeam works with six different sensor vendors, and de Lench is quick to point out that none are “hit counters,” which simply track the number of hits a player takes. “At this point, hit count is a misnomer. There is no useful information that a parent is going to get from a display that reads out hits; not at all,” she says. “It’s a scare tactic, and we don’t feel it’s ethical. We’re only using monitors that have the ability to monitor, not track.”
Physical health risks like concussions may seem the most pressing, but another thing parents must monitor, de Lench says, is the psychological and emotional health of athletes. “If their gut tells them that the coach is yelling at their kids, if their coach is neglecting their child, then they know that that abuse is going on,” she says. “So I think what they need to do is they need to understand that this is a very complex problem.”
And while sports safety is a complex problem, de Lench says there’s a relatively simple solution. “We have to make sure we put the health and safety of the child first, before anything—before any wins, before anything happens within that season,” she says.