Debate over better protection during sports highlighted

COFFS Harbour professor James Donnelly didn't need the tragic death of a young local rugby league player to remind him about the threat head injuries pose to the next generation of sporting stars.

As news of the death Jake Kedzlie spread on Monday, the controversial debate over the need for better head protection in sport was brought back into spotlight.

Dr Donnelly, a professor at Southern Cross University, dedicates his time to finding out how parents, doctors and coaches can best protect teenagers from the dangers of concussion.

He's realistic about Australia's love of sport and while he has no intention of calling for radical changes to codes, he is adamant it's time politicians and sports officials start to take "concussion seriously".

Without question he would like to see changes in tackling rules and better head protection for players in contact sports but Dr Donnelly believes it will take a change in the sporting culture to truly make a difference.

One of the biggest problems, he believes, is the code of silence players abide by in an effort to get back on the field as soon as possible.

He's also fed up with the flawed idea that if "someone gets knocked out and gets back up again, they are probably ok".

A player who "pretends he is ok" and returns to play too quickly, is vulnerable to "catastrophic" consequences from what may seem like a "mild blow to the head'," he said.

At the Coffs Harbour SCU campus, a world-first study is currently under way into the way a teenager's life is impacted by a single concussion.

Unlike studies which focus on the post-concussion impacts, Dr Donnelly is looking at how children as young as right respond to learning before and after they are injured.

Dr Donnelly said very little data was available internationally about how children responded before they were concussed.

He said his key findings so far had revealed significant changes in behaviour and learning patterns and persistent symptoms were "far greater" than what he had anticipated.

He will spend the next 12 months on a professional development tour of Australia in an attempt to increase awareness of the research programs.

He hopes that by the time he's finished getting his message across, the government will have recognised the need for funding and every school student in NSW will be assessed.Assessments will begin at a private school in Armidale in the coming months.



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