5 Questions with Brooke de Lench, MomsTEAM Institute of Youth Sports Safety
November 23, 2015
I am pleased to have as our guest today Ms. Brooke de Lench, a pioneer and leader in the field of youth sports safety. Brooke is founder and Executive Director of MomsTEAM Institute of Youth Sports Safety, Producer of the PBS movie ‘The Smartest Team: Making High School Football Safer,” and author of Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports.
Brooke has become a valued colleague, and someone I think of immediately when I’m asked what relevance social media has for a sports medicine clinician. I first ‘met’ Brooke on Twitter, and as our relationship has evolved, I now find I work with her on a weekly if not sometimes daily basis, addressing youth sports issues of mutual concern. I am proud that I have become a member of the Board of Directors for the non-profit MomsTEAM Institute, a professional role I have written about in previous blog posts.
Much of the work MomsTEAM has done has been instrumental in advancing the cause of identifying, preventing, and managing concussions in youth sports, and there is a natural affiliation that has developed between this journal and MomsTEAM over the years, with the Institute authoring several blog posts on the research in youth concussions. Those posts have frequently looked at work that CJSM has published. Our November 2015 issue has, for instance, two pieces of original research that I suspect may end up in the pages of a MomsTEAM post: Register-Mihalik’s ‘Characteristics of Pediatric and Adolescent Concussion Clinic Patients with Post-concussion Amnesia,’ and Schmidt’s ‘Does Visual Performance Influence Head Impact Severity Among High School Football Athletes?’
With MomsTEAM gearing up for a collaboration with Sony Pictures‘ Concussion (the movie)–an event that I think will impact all clinicians caring for youth athletes–I thought it was time to interview Brooke on our regularly recurring “Five Questions with CJSM” feature.
1) CJSM: How old is MomsTeam Institute and how did you found it?
BD: I established MomsTEAM Institute in 1999 and we launched our first website and workshops in August of 2000. I began writing the “Survival Guide for Youth Sports Parents” in 1998 when Random House offered to publish my book in three volumes over the subsequent five years because I had “so much information.” Instead, I turned to the limitless container of information – the new and emerging internet which was something much more exciting to me. Later in 2006, I did write a book that Harper Collins published.
In 2000, there was nowhere to find independent, objective well researched and well written information for sports parents, and so I brought together a team of experts in medicine, law, journalism, sports, and coaching who along with me as a writer-researcher, began the long journey of providing the very best information on how to keep student athletes safe: physically, emotionally, psychologically and sexually.
Parents always seemed to turn to me with sports safety questions; my triplet sons called these regulars “Moms Team.” Hence the name. My mother was an emergency room nurse for 35 years and I applied all of her scare tactics teachings as a sports league president and coach when my own kids were coming up. Back in the late ‘80s and ‘90s no one knew why I was demanding first aid, CPR, AED, AND concussion education of all coaches and team parents, or why I always kept an AED in my car.
2) CJSM: Congratulations! MomsTEAM Institute is partnering with Sony Pictures to raise awareness about concussions in association with the Christmas release of the film “Concussion.” Can you tell us more about the “Dance or Donate” initiative?
BD: Thank you. We are all very excited to partner with Sony Pictures for such an important movie. Sony launched the social media campaign #ForThePlayers with the challenge of “Dance or Donate” to bring awareness to the Concussion Movie with all donations going to MomsTEAM Institute of Youth Sports Safety, Inc. a 501 (c) 3 non-profit charitable organization so that we may continue to keep student athletes safe while playing sports. The challenge is to take a video of the ‘dance” you do when your favorite team scores a touchdown (goal, home run, etc.) and then challenge 3-5 of your friends to do the same thing. If you don’t have a dance then you donate. Many people are doing both: dancing and donating.
3) CJSM: If you had to compose a 140 character tweet, what would it say about the benefits of youth sports?
BD: “Most children will never know or appreciate the amazing benefits & lessons of sports until well after their playing years when they are adults”
4) CJSM: In your opinion, what is the single ‘best practice’ a high school or youth sport organization can do in 2015-2016 to improve the safety of players in their programs?
BD: Mandate that all sports stakeholders (ALL)–and support teams such as cheer and band–take annually a course (or courses) in: CPR, AED, First Aid, Concussion and sports injury readiness; and an additional section on bullying, hazing and neglect. This may be part of the physical education program and/or the adult education programs.
5) CJSM As a preface, this is a broad question: what role(s) do you see social media playing in addressing what has been termed the ‘concussion crisis’ in sports?
BD: Social media has the ability to be a very powerful and beneficial tool for disseminating excellent information and to provide entertainment. One can keep “lists” and follow those they deem worthy, reliable and trusted curators and providers of news, studies, articles etc. If a person is transparent and provides verifiable information about themselves, then social media is usually a very positive way of sharing knowledge.
The problem arises when “faceless” people spend hours and hours incessantly tweeting information. If someone is unwilling to post a profile and a photo of themselves, it is a red flag that their posts are not to be trusted. The old saw, “Consider the source,” is apt in this context. Unlike MomsTEAM Institute, which is in the business of providing reliable, science- and fact-based sports safety health and safety information, there are some on Twitter who have a narrow, emotion-driven agenda, which sometimes prompts them to post inaccurate information and make unfounded personal attacks based on emotion, not facts, hoping to draw the subject of the attack out into the open to engage in a “flame war.” When that happens, the use of social media becomes destructive, not instructive.
As for the conversations around concussions, TBI and brain injuries, I worry that it is, all too often, fueled by fear and by media which know that the best way to increase traffic to their websites is to whip the public into a frenzy by spreading information which is not evidence-based. Far too many reporters take information and run with it because it is “sexy” and interesting and they rarely have the time to be investigative journalists–to do due diligence in their reporting, and to provide balanced information. Many people are beginning to seriously question “why so much venom” exists around the “concussion conversation,” unlike many other public health topics. We need to dig much deeper into the lives of the noise-makers to know their motives and hidden agendas.
Three things will quiet this topic down considerably. 1) We need to sort out level-headed, unbiased, and trusted experts who are the recognized providers of transparent information; 2) We need the public to interact with these experts as their source of authoritative information, and move away from anonymous providers of information; 3) The media need to focus on success stories. Instead of covering every negative story, imagine what may happen if the media let the nation know that the MomsTEAM Institute, evidence-based PBS documentary “The Smartest Team: Making High School Safer” provides the documented, true story on how to dramatically reduce the risk of concussions for young football players. Imagine how many kids would have been much safer this past football season had they known about The Smartest Team six-pillars.
It is sad, but the majority of media folks do not like good stories. “If it bleeds, it leads” is as true in sports journalism as it is in any other area of the profession. This is why MomsTEAM Institute works so hard at putting forward the good stories, the success stories.
Thanks so much Brooke for your time. I know I’ll interact with you soon, most likely on Twitter. I hope you hear from other readers of CJSM as well.