Brain injury in the news

March 20, 2021

Calls for better concussion protection guidelines for community football players - Read this important ABC News Story, featuring interviews with Tasmanian teenager Holly Radburn, AFL Tasmania CEO, Damian Gill, and BIAT EO, Deborah Byrne.

Calls for better concussion protection guidelines for community football players

ABC News Article by Chris Rowbottom, published Saturday 20 March 2021

A teenage girl sitting at her laptop in her school uniform at the kitchen table.
Life for Holly Radburn hasn't been the same since she suffered a concussion while playing junior football. (ABC News: Scott Ross)

For Holly Radburn, the prospect of playing in the AFL Women's competition was an exciting reality.

At 14, she had earned selection in junior representative teams and had been invited to participate in North Melbourne's junior Tasmanian academy program.

All was going well for the talented youngster until a fifth concussion in five years ended her playing prospects.

More seriously, Holly's social and academic life has been severely affected by repeated head knocks.

"I remember at the end of grade 7 I got an A+ in maths, which was exciting, and I was beginning to really take high school seriously," she said.

Nine young girls wearing muddy blue and white football jerseys smiling on a football field.
Holly Radburn was a promising young footballer before her concussion.(Supplied: Holly Radburn)

"Then, in grade 8, I got my concussion and there was no school. I couldn't comprehend things, if someone said something it would be a blur in my brain and really messy. I couldn't put words together."

"I was very tired all the time. I struggled so much to keep up with my friends. I'd try hard because I didn't want to be different. It affected me emotionally."

Holly is housebound for most of the week and susceptible to bright lights and dizziness, while her memory and comprehension have also diminished.

Two years on from her last concussion and after intense physiotherapy, she's only just returning to school on a semi full-time basis.

Of her five concussions, two were sustained while playing junior football.

Ms Radburn believes her experience when she suffered her last and most severe concussion showed some junior clubs were still learning how to properly handle the injury.

After Holly sustained the concussion, her mother was asked to remove her from the field of play without adequate checks.

"There was no stretcher. I couldn't walk, I had to lean against my mum and was falling over. It was about 15 minutes later I was sitting in the clubrooms realising what happened. They shouldn't have done what they did," she said.

"No emails, no text messages, no follow-up, nothing.

"It really affected me because I just thought they didn't care."

Key points:

  • Holly Radburn suffered major concussions while playing junior football, and believes her injury was mismanaged
  • The AFL is set to bolster community concussion guidelines, but they will differ from improvements recently made at the top level
  • The Brain Injury Association [of Tasmania] says more education about the dangers of concussion at grassroots level is needed

Updated community guidelines needed

Ms Radburn is just one junior-level footballer suffering the effects of post-concussion syndrome.

At the elite level of Australian rules football, the hastily introduced injury substitution rule shows that concussion is being taken more seriously than ever, as top tier players enjoy increased protection.

But community-level footballers are still waiting for a refresh of their guidelines.

"Even just a bit more level of support could prevent it massively," Ms Radburn said.

"I really wish that would be the situation because it really happens a lot and it's overlooked because we're just young people playing sport."

AFL Tasmania CEO Damian Gill says updated community guidelines and protocols are on the way.

But he admits that some protections, like injury substitutions and full-time club doctors, aren't practical at local levels.

"It's not as simple as just rolling out [the] same expectations for AFL or AFLW and expecting community participants and community clubs to do the same," Mr Gill said.

"It's about understanding those clubs and what they're capable of and how we can best manage concussion in an effective way."

A woman wearing glasses standing in front of a tree and garden.
Deborah Byrne says there needs to be better concussion education in community sport.(ABC News: Selina Ross)

The Brain Injury Association [of Tasmania] believes local players deserve the same level of care as those in the top tier AFL and AFLW competitions.

"At that community level, quite often it's volunteer coaches, it's parents, so there isn't that opportunity for them to actually have that education," said the Association's Deborah Byrne.

"People probably think that because they're not playing sport at that elite level that they may not sustain a concussion, but I'd suspect they're at a much higher risk of sustaining a concussion."

ABC News Article by Chris Rowbottom, published Saturday 20 March 2021

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