01/19/2012 11:23 EST | Updated 03/20/2012 05:12 EDT

Concussion Prevention Effort Features Mobile App

Four sports organizations will receive $1.5 million in federal funding for new education programs designed to reduce concussions and other brain injuries in children and youth who play team sports.

The Public Health Agency of Canada's "Active and Safe" program is supporting a joint project of ThinkFirst Canada, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, the Coaching Association of Canada, and Hockey Canada to help coachers, trainers, parents, and athletes recognize and prevent serious brain injuries.

In announcing the funding in Ottawa Thursday, Minister of State for Amateur Sport Bal Gosal noted that an estimated 90 per cent of severe brain injuries were preventable if parents, coaches and the kids themselves knew more about the risks.

"We can't eliminate all injuries," Gosal said, "but we want to help parents and coaches predict the predictable and prevent what is preventable."

Information provided by his department says more than 40 per cent of brain injuries in children and youth aged 10 to 19 years who get treated in emergency departments are due to sports and recreation activities.

The project highlighted in Thursday's announcement will research the information currently available and identify any obvious gaps. A safety-minded public awareness campaign will follow, using online communication in particular to ensure access across Canada and keep costs down.

"The information isn't reaching everyone right now," said Rebecca Nesdale-Tucker, the executive director and CEO of ThinkFirst Canada. "Injury is a leading cause of health expenditure and a lot of these injuries are preventable."

"We want to make sure we're being role models for children," Nesdale-Tucker added.

"Helmets can't protect [against] all injuries," she also said, noting the need for safer facilities, new rules, procedures and policies in high-contact sports, and the importance of enforcing rules and policies once implemented.

Mobile app planned

Plans for the funding announced Thursday include a brain injury and concussion mobile app, downloadable concussion information cards and helmet fitting guides, and toolkits for individuals involved in particular team sports.

Hockey Canada's vice-president of membership services, Glen McCurdie, said the mobile phone application would be free of charge and suggested the development of other technologies could follow.

The NDP's critic for amateur sports, Sudbury MP Glenn Thibeault, supported the program Thursday by joining players and coaches from the Sudbury Lady Wolves hockey team for the launch of some concussion impact sensor trials, to learn more about how brain injuries happen in hockey.

The New Democrats have proposed a national strategy to reduce the number of brain injuries in amateur and youth athletics, including a national injury surveillance and data collection system for concussions.

The NDP also wants to see substantive concussion guidelines, including a deterrent mechanism to ensure athletes are not returning to play against medical recommendations. Last October, Thibeault called for national training and educational standards for coaches, as well as cash incentives to assist amateur sports organizations in implementing the new protocols.