Pilot concussion programme for community-level players

New Zealand Rugby research analyst Danielle Salmon spreads the message about concussion at...
New Zealand Rugby research analyst Danielle Salmon spreads the message about concussion at Kavanagh College yesterday. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Otago is getting in on the ground floor in the battle against concussion in community level rugby.

New Zealand Rugby is running a pilot concussion programme in the region this season.

The programme, which aims to educate community level rugby players, has the support of the Otago Rugby Football Union, the clubs and schools.

New Zealand Rugby research analyst Danielle Salmon is co-ordinating the effort. She said professional players were well looked after these days.

But that same level of protection did not exist at the grassroots level.

The message Salmon and her team are trying to get through is everybody at that level needs to look after each other.

"Particularly with high school players the message that we are really pushing is about looking after your mates," she said.

"In all fairness to coaches and referees and the physios, you can't be in all places at all times and are not going to see everything that is happening.

"We know that your team-mates are probably the best gauge on what is happening and how you are doing.

"So we are really trying to empower these kids to say, `Hey, Johnny, you're not right. Let's get you off the field'."

It is not all about education, though. About 700 players have been tested to establish a baseline.

"We've kind of adapted it [what happens at Super Rugby level] for the community setting and have been working with the premier clubs and the high school teams."

The baseline tests start with memory tests to set a cognitive benchmark.

The players are also asked to score themselves out of three for 21 different symptoms.

The baseline provides a reference point to help make a concussion diagnosis.

Salmon and her team have also established an acute care concussion clinic. It is open to community rugby players on Monday nights.

"We've been very lucky. We've had a few GPs who have volunteered and are helping pilot a system which will help GPs produce a standard assessment for concussion diagnoses and medical clearances."

Last year Salmon ran a similar programme for a group of 45 female Otago rugby players aged 13-18, so grassroots rugby players in the region are being well-served by the initiatives.

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