I was thrilled to get my copy of "The Smartest Team." This great documentary is the creation of MomsTEAM founder Brooke de Lench, who clearly has a great interest in concussion prevention in sports - especially football. Having had a concussion as a child, I know all too well about the pain, the setbacks, and the long road it sometimes take to recovery. I had to relearn the multiplication tables for 6s and 7s in 5th grade! I was mortified. To this day I have trouble with 6x8=48!
I always grimace when people downplay concussions. I am shocked when athletes return to the field of play shortly after a head injury. As I am working my way through this crazy world of football as a mom, I see another side of the story: the athlete who wants to get back in the game. You can see a broken leg; you cannot see the inside of your head. As my son is heading into big time UIL 7th grade football, I am paying more attention. The boys are getting bigger and the hits are getting harder. My son and my family have been fortunate, at least so far. He is big and tall for his age; I am more worried about others getting hurt than him. Chances are, though, they will soon catch up to him and he'll be on the receiving end of some big, powerful hits. So what's a mom to get prepared? How about movie night!
I could not wait to watch Brooke's film, but I knew the real impact (pardon the pun) would come when my son and his posse of football buddies watched, too. My mission: watch the movie for the first time with my guys and listen to what they had to say. I expected us to spend an hour watching the film, discussing it as it went along, and then I would get their feedback after the film was finished. What ended up happening was something like a Jane Goodall study of the Three Stooges with Curley, Moe and Larry in their natural habitat: it took three days to watch a 58-minute film! I learned much about patience and perseverance in the pursuit of research. I also learned the attention span of a 12-year-old boy is 7 minutes! So here is my research log on my project:
Lure the subjects to the habitat:
I chose a rainy Tuesday to gather my boys. I told them I had a football movie to watch and wanted their valued and honest opinions. I had the appropriate after-school movie snacks lined up in order on the coffee table: sweet, salty, crunchy and cheesy. Seats are selected on couch and chairs. Roll film.
Subjects respond to familiar sights and sounds.
The beginning of the film shows the Newcastle high school team in Oklahoma playing on a Friday night. The band playing, the crowd cheering, and the players firing up to play the game brings excitement to my young subjects.
Stop film. How many days to the first day of football season? Does it interfere with dove season this year?
As Brooke interviews the Racer players, she asks how many have had a concussion. A majority of hands are raised. I am shocked. My subjects comment that Texans are just made tougher. They do not believe. Yet.
Subjects mirror what they see.
Coach Bobby Hosea works with the Newcastle Racer team . He shows them a proper way to tackle, with your head up and tackle under the arms to prevent head injury. Players on film and subjects watching film respond to Coach Hosea's energetic and forceful voice. My subjects attempt to use film techniques.
Stop movie. There is too much action and tackling for the confines of my living room! Lamp lost in struggle on ground. Try to re-gain composure and gather subjects back to assigned seats. Boys not sure this new technique will work, but are willing to try. What will their coaches think?
Subjects recoil at unpleasant tasks.
Dr. Meehan recommends cross training and says that remaining active can reduce the risk of concussion. A great way to maintain muscle fitness is manual labor. This is my favorite part of the film. The football team is shown mowing yards, hauling trash and bailing hay. I stop the film to say, "This is great! We have lots of things to do this summer. You will keep in football shape and it might help you with injury prevention!" A win, win win! Subjects take a bathroom break ... and do not return.
We reconvene where we left off. Brooke is interviewing players in their natural habitat off the football field. They are hunting. All boys are in cammo and with their shotguns.
Stop film! What are they hunting? What kind of guns. Hmmmmm. These guys are now becoming familiar with similar interest. We are a little quieter and more intent today.
Subjects respond to technology.
Two cutting edge companies (Impakt Protective and i1 Biometrics) show how they hope to detect concussion with sensors in helmets and mouth guards. Subjects ask if they can help in the study. How cool! All of a sudden a football helmet appears. Stop film.
Helmet is flung around the room and smacked in the ground to get sense of impact.
Researcher gets mad. Grabs helmet and tell subject we have seen enough for the day.
Isolate a subject.
Researcher cannot take another day of chaos. Finishes project with solo boy. We finish the film. Subject thrilled the Racers had a good season and made the playoffs. We were impressed that the number of concussions had declined from 16 to only two using the tools we had learned about in the film. My favorite subject flinched at the thought of retirement caused by multiple concussions.
Football is an evolving sport. When "The Smartest Team" shows how players used their heads tackling and blocking in the 1920's players, we just laugh, but we are also shown the future of the sport in which players learn to tackle from coaches like Bobby Hosea and companies like iBiometrics and Shock Box use technology to help make the game safer. I realize we are at the beginning of a revolution to keep our players safer. But I know it is going to take many conversations between coaches, players and parents about The Six Pillars to get the best results, because boys process information in their own unique ways and at their own pace.
Post-scriptI caught my son watching "The Smartest Team" on my computer last night. We finally were able to have the discussion I wanted to have three ays ago! We are both aware what is in store next year and beyond. If there is a head injury, we will know what to do and how to deal with it. Thank you so much Brooke de Lench! You are "The Smartest Team"-mate!