In 2011, while serving as president of USA Hockey’s California affiliate, Steve Laing assembled a committee comprised of two board directors and two medical experts to research and vet California’s first statewide concussion legislation, Assembly Bill 25. Effective in Jan. 2012, the legislation only applied to public school sports, however, Laing challenged the Concussion Committee to take the basics of this legislation and create a comprehensive concussion education, awareness and protocol program that could be implemented statewide in hockey.
The resulting concussion protocol program has been in place in California since 2012, becoming the cornerstone of the Pacific District’s ongoing commitment to increasing the safety of youth hockey in its affiliates.
“As program administrators and leadership, it is our duty first and foremost to be concerned about the safety of our athletes,” said Laing, now a Pacific District director. “Whether that is the size of the ice, the length of the period, the protective equipment or the way the game is played, there is always an opportunity to make the experience safer for the athlete without compromising the integrity of the game or the level of competition.”
Fast forward to today and the Pacific District is committed not only to player safety but also to the innovation it takes to continually advance new ideas and programming, as well as support the common visions shared with USA Hockey in terms of player safety and player development. In Feb. 2017, the Pacific District implemented concussion protocols that build on the original California program, but also reflect the specific concussion legislation requirements of its affiliate members. This mandatory protocol is a key component of the Pacific District’s commitment to educating its membership – players, coaches, parents, managers, athletes, volunteers and leadership – about the importance of being able to recognize the symptoms of a concussion and the critical need to ensure that a concussed player is clinically evaluated and diagnosed, recovers fully and is safely returned to participation. The protocol includes an acknowledgement for coaches and parents/guardians, any additional state-required forms and acknowledgements, and a library of educational information and tools for member programs to draw from to educate their membership.
Expanding and implementing the protocol for the Pacific District is Jaime Campbell. In a newly created pilot program, Jaime will fill the role of player safety/concussion awareness representative. Laing said selecting Campbell was an easy choice and a unanimous decision by the board members.
“I added Jaime as an original member of the California Concussion Committee in 2011, and she has been instrumental in developing the programming they have used since the beginning,” said Laing. “She knows how to guide a project from conception through completion. She has the support of the USA Hockey player safety leadership, and we all trust her to take this, and any other player safety initiatives, to the next level for the benefit of the athletes in our district.”
Campbell says it has been a labor of love to be part of the concussion program from the beginning, and she’s excited to see it expand across the Pacific District.
“What no one will see are the hundreds of hours that the original four members of the committee put in to making the concussion program look as simple and seamless as it does today,” she said. “The first two years were a huge commitment of time and personal resources to be certain we ‘got it right’. We were all very focused on ensuring the messaging and the materials would truly meet the needs of our membership in simple, comprehensive language that reflected the core reality that concussions are real and can alter a person’s life forever if they do not recover completely before they return to participation in any activity.”
The Next Level
USA Hockey is pleased to see the Pacific District take a leadership role in developing the player safety coordinator role.
“The Pacific District is an innovative leader in concussion education and management,” said Dr. Michael Stuart, USA Hockey’s chief medical and safety officer. “We look forward to working together in order to develop nationwide programs that will enhance the safety of our sport.”
Expanding the basic components of the concussion protocol throughout the district, then for each individual state affiliate (building in legislative requirements) was the first step for Campbell. With the tools and materials in place, she is now visiting each state affiliate providing training and education on how to implement and use the protocol. Campbell acknowledges that new programs are sometimes met with some hesitancy, but she’s ready to work through it.
“People don’t naturally embrace new concepts or programs that appear to complicate a process,” she said. “They have to really be able to understand the problem to see the need for the change, or the additional step, form, signature or training. Our challenge is to ensure our program delivers that message effectively.”
Campbell’s personal commitment to the program was formed by the very people who inspired the need for it.
“Having a conversation with a young person or a professional athlete whose life has been permanently altered by a concussion, or with a parent whose child will never be the same because of a concussion, will drive this point home in a heartbeat,” she said. “Those are the messages we need to send, the stories we need to tell, that serve as the basis for this program and the reason it is so important that we have these resources for our members.”
These programs are not a one-time undertaking, and they are not self-sustaining. There is a constant need for this education to continue each season as new parents, athletes and volunteers join the growing ranks of USA Hockey in its Pacific District affiliates, as well as continual changes in state legislation. The key to a program’s longevity will be in the commitment of leadership to continually evaluate, revise and adjust to current information, research, technology and legislation.
Campbell knows this new role goes beyond the concussion protocol and looks forward to participating in player safety discussions on a more strategic level.
“As a volunteer, the ability to interact with industry experts focused on the best possible outcome for our athletes at every age and skill level is an honor and a huge responsibility,” said Campbell. “Vetting new technology, creating test groups and pilot studies that assist USA Hockey in its ongoing efforts in regard to player safety, and developing programs and messaging that support those ideas and efforts is an opportunity for the Pacific District to continue its tradition of commitment to both its membership and to USA Hockey. If our grassroots efforts can have organization-wide benefits - that is a win for everyone.”