By: Clayton Barnes
Source: Cape Argus

Pushy parents play a big role in injuries High risk of brain damage in school rugby – experts

Interference and pressure from parents, also known as ‘ugly parents syndrome’ has been known to contribute to sporting injuries in young sports people, says qualified personal trainer and paediatric osteopath.

Dr Guy Ashburner says sideline incidents and aggressive behaviour are justifiably dreaded by referees, associations and participants in sport. Pushy Parents Play Role In Injuries.

“Such behaviour, which is commonly called ‘ugly parent syndrome’, can include swearing, aggressively disputing calls made by an official, arguing with and intimidating officials, parents and even their own children, and invading the field. At its most extreme, it can lead to physical violence”.

“Some parents expect nothing less than a win at inter-school rugby matches, and they promise treats to children as young as seven to score a try. And if they don’t, they get nothing, and could even be grounded for weeks.

Ashburner says the “ugly parent syndrome” is driven by a compulsive desire to control the child’s sporting career, often on the basis of a groundless assumption that the child is destined for rugby stardom.

He says the stress imposed on the child by this sort of behaviour could lead to a drastic lowering of self-esteem and ultimately withdrawal from sports participation.

“Many of today’s children are overweight or obese, and it is becoming increasingly important to encourage children to take part in sport. Active participation in sport not only improves fitness and enjoyment but also fosters physical and life skills”.

Ashburner says although parents generally aspire to provide the best sporting experience for their children, it does not always turn out that way. “Parental interference and pressure are among the main reasons why children sustain severe injuries and why they drop out of sport.

“Children who compete under excessive parental pressure may display physical ailments ranging from headaches to stomach pains. In addition, stress may cause sleep disturbances, emotional volatility, fatigue and prolonged depression.”

School rugby is growing in popularity and yet it is one of the most dangerous sports in South Africa. On average, about seven schoolchildren across the country- some as young as eight- suffer catastrophic concussions or serious neck and spine injuries each year.

Repeated concussive episodes are a real risk in the sport, which SA Rugby says has become increasingly popular at school level in the past decade.

In March, moments after Adam Davids, 20, a matriculant from Malmesbury, hunched down with team-mates in a scrum, he collapsed and died, having suffered severe concussion after a neck injury on the field.

A team of top sports science experts has warned players, parents and coaches to be more conscious of how dangerous concussion is, no matter how mild it may seem.

Professor Ann Edwards, a neurophysiologist at Rhodes University and co-ordinator of the National Sports Concussion Initiative (NSCI), said a player did not need to lose consciousness, or even hit his or her head to be concussed.

“Anything that causes head jarring (body-to-body or body-to-ground), causing the brain to shake around in the skull, will normally result in brain dysfunction” said Edwards.

“This will be evident by the athlete’s feeling dazed, dizzy, foggy and disorientated, even quite briefly, and not necessarily losing consciousness.

“Even when the athlete is no longer personally aware of symptoms, neurophysiological research has revealed that they may not yet be fully recovered from the injury.”

Edwards said coaches and parents often sent players back on to the field, despite their having suffered life-threatening injuries.

“A second mild blow to a brain still physiologically vulnerable may have catastrophic consequences in the form of second impact syndrome (SIS). This is where the autoregulation of the blood supply to the brain fails, and the result may be death in about 50 percent of cases, and alternatively severe brain damage.”

Repeated mild impacts to the head, and repeated concussive episodes on the unrecovered brain, would eventually result in permanent deterioration in intellectual function, especially producing problems with processing speed and short-term memory.

A report by Edwards, and sports science expert Professor Tim Noakes, on the incidence of concussion at both school and professional level in South Africa, indicated that about 14 percent of high school rugby players and 23 percent of professional and club players were diagnosed with concussion every year.

Denver Pienaar, Boland Rugby Union’s provincial coaching co-ordinator, said the increasing number of dangerous tackles, injuries and concussions was worrying, especially at school level.

He said the union had appealed to schools to use provincial referees for their main matches, to ensure stricter penalties for players who disobeyed the rules.

SA Rugby recently launched a national safety programme, BokSmart, to reduce rugby injuries at schools after repeated complaints to the sports ministry over the incidence of serious head, neck and spine injuries in rugby.

BokSmart holds education sessions at schools and clubs- a programme that has been endorsed by Noakes and the Sports Science Institute, who believe it will “turn things around and drastically reduce injuries on the field”.

The BokSmart Spineline is a dedicated emergency helpline operated by ER24 giving advice and support to any seriously injured rugby player. The costs of telephonic screening, transportation and on-screen stabilisation will be covered by ER24 should the player not have medical aid.

Osteopath, Dr Guy Ashburner, says contact rugby should be avoided until at least the age of 13. “Touch or tag rugby is an excellent alternative. It’s a safe and exhilarating sport for children, and it serves as grounding in the arts of either of rugby’s two codes, league and union,” he said.

Edwards agreed, but said introducing touch rugby at school level now was impractical and she recommended sports “that do not provide repeated risks to the brain function”. The next best thing was to build in appropriate protection such as neurocognitive screening.