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Practical workshop spurred changes for sport organizations nation-wide, focused on behaviours, rules and training methods

OTTAWA, June 18, 2019 – For the second year in a row, the Sport Information Resource Centre (SIRC) brought together key stakeholders from Canada’s sport community to address the issue of concussions in sport. More than 80 decision makers and technical directors including 26 national, 12 multi-sport and nine community sport organizations rolled up their sleeves to tackle this year’s theme: concussion prevention.

“We must put our athletes and our young people at the centre of everything we do in sport. I can never say this enough. There needs to be a cultural shift where everyone—all levels of governments, the sport community and the health sector—works together to reduce the risk of sport-related concussions,” said the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Sport.

“Canada has demonstrated leadership in concussion management from the national level through to provincial, territorial and community sport. Now is the time to look to preventing concussions in the first place,” said Debra Gassewitz, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Sport Information Resource Centre.

Workshop discussion focused on three key opportunities for action: changing behaviours in sport, changing rules and guidelines, and changing training techniques to make sport safer.

Hockey Hall of Famer, former Liberal cabinet minister and best-selling author Ken Dryden set the stage for table discussions by calling on all workshop participants to exercise their influence and enact changes in their respective sport domains. “The question today is, how do we make our sports just as compelling and fun to play, while also reducing the number of brain injuries significantly?” said Mr. Dryden. “Don’t start by assuming that the barriers for change are far too high. Start by asking, ‘what would it take?’ And then, ‘how do we get there?’ The answers won’t be so unthinkable.”

Dr. Kathryn Schneider (University of Calgary) provided an overview of the evidence, and identified key steps in prevention initiatives, including knowing the extent of the problem, identifying risk factors, developing an intervention, and evaluating the impacts. Dr. Carolyn Emery (University of Calgary) spoke to the role of surveillance in high schools to reduce concussions and their consequences, known as the SHRED Concussions program – a pan-Canadian high school-based research program involving researchers at nine Canadian universities. “This work doesn’t just happen with a single researcher or research centre,” said Dr. Emery. “Having the unique model of multidisciplinary researchers working with clinical, community and school partners will give us an opportunity to do something that has not been done before nationally or internationally.”

Amanda Black (University of Calgary), Todd Jackson (Hockey Canada), and Doug Gore (Ontario Trillium Foundation) each shared insights on changing behaviours in sport. A recurring theme was the need for continued education and resources for coaches, referees, parents and athletes on concussions. “If you have the evidence, make the change – even if it’s small,” said Gore. “As decision-makers, we need to have the courage of our conviction.”

The day’s agenda featured many examples of innovation and leadership to prevent concussion:

  • Beth Liverman (Skate Canada) spoke to ongoing efforts within figure skating to prevent concussions, including allowing athletes to be removed from the ice for concussion evaluation without incurring a penalty.
  • Kerry MacDonald (Volleyball Canada) discussed injury surveillance, a new warm-up protocol, and an assessment of ball properties to prevent concussion.
  • Aaron Giesler (Football Canada) spoke to the impacts of system-wide rule changes and the growth of smaller-side games and flag football in concussion prevention.
  • Laura McClemont Steacy (Ontario Artistic Swimming and University of Toronto) presented two concussion studies which supported the importance of coach education. “If we can identify the situations in which our athletes are most vulnerable, then we can start to teach our coaches how to better manage those situations,” said McClemont Steacy.
  • Ron Yeung (Basketball Canada) presented several training practices and behaviours to prevent concussions in basketball, including proper techniques to defend, “square up,” “block out,” and take a charge.
  • Julie Steggall (Freestyle Canada) highlighted advances in training, course design and safety equipment as key strategies to reduce concussions and injury in freestyle skiing.
  • Paul Hunter (Rugby Canada) discussed the myriad changes introduced to improve the real and perceived safety of rugby. “We now have a zero-tolerance policy with hits to the head. Rugby already looks different than it did five years ago, even two years ago,” said Hunter, adding, “We have to get comfortable being uncomfortable. As decision-makers, we have a responsibility to make sport safer.”

The Canadian Concussion Prevention Workshop took place June 10 in Ottawa. The photo gallery is available here.

About SIRC:

Incorporated in 1973, SIRC, the Sport Information Resource Centre, has been the leading and most trusted source to learn, share and support Canada’s sport community for over 40 years.  We are committed to engaging with organizations and individuals involved in, or responsible for the development of, sport and fitness in Canada and around the world, to enhance the capacity of our shared community to foster growth and the pursuit of excellence. SIRC is funded in part by the Government of Canada.

Media contact:

Peter Morrow

Knowledge & Communications Specialist

Sport Information Resource Centre (SIRC)

613-231-7472 (SIRC)