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Concussion: AFL's cautious approach

Peter Ryan  February 27, 2013 8:21 PM

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Adelaide coach Brenton Sanderson lied to team doctors about concussion when he was a player

It is something you do think about now and it is talked about a lot more often ... it is also a worry
BRENTON Sanderson used to lie to doctors about concussion when he was a player.

Now, the Adelaide coach knows players would be stupid to do as he did.

Nick Maxwell says he now worries about players who get head knocks.

Worried enough, in fact, for the Collingwood skipper - renowned for never taking a backward step - to leave management in the hands of the experts who he knows have the players' welfare as their priority.

That's heartening for those experts because the more conservative approach to the management of concussion - that the AFL is about to embark on when it introduces the SCAT-3 assessment tool for season 2013 - will present challenges to the traditional approach.

Some predict an evaluation of a player suspected with concussion may take up to 15 minutes under the more conservative guidelines.That means, if you are being evaluated, you are a serious chance of being subbed out of the game.

The trend is to be cautious.

Doctors will have access to resources such as video footage to assist them in their assessment. Doing so will take time but it should lead to a more accurate diagnosis.

That is going to make managing the bench a real issue, one reason why club doctors asked at their conference last November for further investigation into how a concussion or injury substitute may be introduced if the interchange remains at the current three and one system.

Doctors understand the pressures during games but they also know the players' welfare is paramount.

So, part of the AFL's approach will be to raise awareness that what is introduced is being done to protect the players' health and welfare.

Those inside the game are quickly coming to grips with the issue but they remain cautious about the impact and will continue to advocate for solutions that allow the game to be run and won on its merits.
 
Carlton coach Mick Malthouse spoke for many on Wednesday when he said that having an extra substitute to call on while a player is being assessed might both protect players and avoid the thought that a team was being disadvantaged because a player was needing to be assessed.
 
He had no issue with a more conservative approach being taken to concussion but wanted, as his is way, reality to be part of the discussion.
 
Everyone knows there will be, as there was last season, players forced to miss games or be removed from contact drills at training until they pass concussion tests.

Melbourne's Rohan Bail missed rounds 10-13 in 2012 after failing a succession of concussion tests despite feeling OK. He has, in consultation with the club doctor and leading concussion expert professor Gavin Davis, had to accept the frustrating reality of being removed from contact drills for six weeks this pre-season after receiving two knocks in early January.

This is the new landscape of AFL football as the concussion debate takes hold and the competition applies a conservative approach at the elite level and a keen eye on influencing the activity at a lower level.

As a result, a concussion in football conference will take place on March 20-21 at Etihad Stadium to discuss the latest orthodoxy on the issue.

Some of the issues to be discussed include:
- A rest period for concussion
- Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)
- The use of helmets

Much of the thinking will flow from the discussion that took place both within and following the Zurich International Consensus Conference on Concussion held in November that saw the world's concussion experts gather and agree to a range of evidence based positions on the issue.

The issue is no longer just bubbling under the surface after former champion Greg Williams went public with health problems he suspects were a result of the heavy knocks he received during his playing career.

It is now in the minds of those in the midst of the battle.

"It is something you do think about now and it is talked about a lot more often ... it is also a worry," Maxwell said.

And the tide is turning as attitudes change.

Sanderson - a lucid talker on the matter - spoke of his hope that the mentality he had as a player that saw him tell the doctors he was feeling good because he did not want to let down his teammates might change.

He said the processes in place now made it harder for players to pull the wool over the medical experts eyes anyway.

"There's a lot of computer testing that they do now and psych analysis stuff, which is really good," Sanderson said.

"I'm certainly behind the AFL with anything they can do to make the game safer and ensure we don't put players at risks."