Player safety is the top priority of USA Hockey. That’s why updates are being made to the Concussion Management Program and Return to Play forms for the 2019-20 season.
Kevin Margarucci, USA Hockey’s manager of player safety, answered questions about the changes, how they’ll be implemented, and how they’ll enhance the youth hockey experience.
Q: What's new with the Concussion Management Program?
A: Beginning with the 2019-20 season, any athlete held out for concussion evaluation or who has been diagnosed with a concussion must provide a written Return to Play form from a qualified medical provider allowing them to return to any training, practice or game activity with no restrictions. The parent must sign the form and the coach must also sign the form acknowledging that they received it.
Q: What do parents, coaches, managers and volunteers need to know about the Return to Play form?
A: The form will be available online in April for the new registration season, and it will be required starting with the 2019-20 playing season. The form can be printed and filled out, and then must be signed by a qualified medical provider. The parent and coach must then sign the form. It should be kept with the team coach or manager. We are working on a system where the forms can be filed with the district player safety coordinator and we can begin an injury database for concussion incidents. The data will be de-identified for privacy and HIPPA compliance. I should note that beginning with the 2019-20 season, a new volunteer position called Player Safety Coordinator will be implemented in each district (see more information here).
Q: Who counts as a qualified medical provider that can sign off on Return to Play?
A: That is defined differently in each state statute as it pertains to concussions. This is an area where the district player safety coordinators will work to clearly identify those health care professionals in each state who can legally clear a player to return after a concussion.
Q: Has USA Hockey been trending in the right direction with its emphasis on concussion prevention, management and return-to-play protocol? How will this be another step forward?
A: Our concussion management program has always been updated based on the latest research and recommendations. It also aligns with the 2017 Consensus Statement on Concussion in Sport from the 5th International Conference on Concussion in Sport in Berlin. Many state statutes pertaining to concussions require written return to play. Some of our districts and affiliates already require written clearance for return to play. This latest update aligns all of USA Hockey with this written return to play requirement and provides a standard form for use by all.
Q: Is the culture surrounding concussions making progress in youth hockey?
A: I believe so. The awareness and recognition of concussions has grown by parents, coaches and players. The mantra, ‘When in doubt, sit them out’ is a guiding principle that has taken hold in our sport and something we will continue to reinforce. And a relatively new initiative through the Concussion Legacy Foundation that we’ve supported is called Team Up, Speak Up. It’s focus is to let players know it is OK to, and that they should, speak up for a teammate who may have a concussion and report to a coach, parent, doctor or athletic trainer. It’s great to see the progress we’ve made, and together we will continue to affect positive change related to the overall safety of our game.