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Q&A with USA Hockey Player Safety Manager Kevin Margarucci

By Tom Robinson, 10/22/19, 4:15PM MDT


Team Up Speak Up Week to raise awareness of concussion safety runs Oct. 20-26

Teamwork takes on many different forms in hockey.

USA Hockey and the Concussion Legacy Foundation have joined forces to make Oct. 20-26 Team Up Speak Up Week.

During the week, USA Hockey and the Concussion Legacy Foundation are encouraging coaches and team leaders to raise awareness of concussions through discussions with their teams. The goal of Team Up Speak Up is to ensure athletes tell a team leader if they notice concussion signs in a teammate.

We spoke with Kevin Margarucci, USA Hockey’s manager of player safety, to discuss Team Up Speak Up Week and related issues.

Q: How has concussion awareness changed in recent years?

A: Fortunately, concussion awareness has been brought to the forefront of a lot of people’s minds because of what’s going on at the pro levels. Obviously, the youth game is a lot different than the pro game, but, nonetheless, that has brought the awareness to everybody.

USA Hockey takes into account the latest medical research that is out there and tries to educate everyone involved in the game to the best of our ability. Based on the information available, USA Hockey has put in place and continues to advance policies and protocols for concussion management and return to play.

Q: The culture of sports often is to try to fight through some injuries or a little bit of pain, at times. Can you explain, based on what we have learned so far, why it is so important that it cannot be the case when dealing with a head injury?

A: The thing I’ve always done with my experience as an athletic trainer is  preach to parents, coaches and athletes that you need your brain for the rest of your life. Even if you aspire to be a pro athlete, you’re not going to do that if you do not take care of yourself. Any injury is indicative of that, but head injuries can be more serious and have some long-term effects.

The NHL just put out a concussion education video, and there are a couple athletes who stress that players shouldn’t have a “tough-it-out mentality.” They have to do the right things to recover the right way.

Not only do they know that, but they also know they have support from their coaching staff, the support staff and even their teammates.

That culture of being a tough player and getting patted on the back for toughing it out is not there anymore. We need to get that message to the grass-roots level.

Q: Where did the Team Up Speak Up Week idea originate?

A: The Concussion Legacy Foundation started this program in 2016 and reached out to us to be a supporter of it. It started as a one-day campaign, but last year we both wanted to expand it to a week in order to help raise awareness.

Together, we identified a week during October because it’s the beginning of the season for a lot of youth teams. We timed it to coincide with the beginning of the season so the message is out there. It’s our goal that the message continues to resonate throughout the season.           

Q: How can teams and associations get involved?

A:The concept is very simple. We ask the coach to give a short speech to their team and post a video of the speech on social media using #TeamUpSpeakUp.

A lot of times kids are scared to speak up to their coach because they don’t want anyone to be upset with them. By having the coach give that speech to the kids, it empowers them and shows those kids that their coach cares about them. Ultimately, teammates become more likely to speak up.

Q: Realizing that we could be addressing athletes of various ages, are there some basic tips that can be passed along to the athletes about how they can recognize someone who possibly has a concussion?

A: When you look at concussions, you look at a lot of different things. You look at signs someone can observe and symptoms in various degrees that you have to be able to identify.  

By looking at someone, you can’t tell if they have a headache, you can’t tell if they’re dizzy, you can’t tell if their ears are ringing, you can’t tell some of those symptoms.

There are some signs though. They have a blank stare. They’re not responding to questions. Their personality is different. If they fell down on the ice or had an impact, they may have been slow to get up or may have been grabbing at their head.

There are outward signs that you can view that may trigger the idea that something doesn’t look right. Those are the types of things that at an athlete might show.

Q: What else can be done to reduce the impact concussions and other injuries have on sports?

A: One of the things that I think this week ties into is the Declaration of Safety, Fair Play and Respect that was just ratified by USA Hockey’s Board of Director this past June. The Declaration is a collaborative effort between players, coaches, officials, administrators and parents to change the culture around body checking to ensure there are no hits from behind, hits to the head or late hits.

If we can continue shifting the culture of body checking in today’s game to focus on possession and not to intimidate or hurt an opponent, then we’re looking at reducing the risk of injury and making our game safer and more fun for everybody on every level.

They go hand in hand. We want to decrease the risk of injury, but also when it does happen — I don’t think you’re ever going to have a zero rate of injury in any sport — we want to make sure we’re doing the right thing for our players when they are injured.

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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