"Someone You Should Know" is a monthly series that will feature a representative from the football community. Each guest will answer questions around youth football health and safety and how they are contributing to this key initiative.
For September, we are featuring Dr. Elizabeth Pieroth, who is a noted neuropsychologist who has been working with pro, college and high school teams in Illinois.
1. Please describe your role and experience as a medical professional for football players at the NFL and youth levels.
I am a Board Certified Neuropsychologist and the Associate Director of the NorthShore University HealthSystem Sports Concussion Program. I have been involved in the assessment of NHL players since 1997. This will be my 12th season as the independent concussion consultant to the Chicago Bears and my 11th season with the Chicago Blackhawks. I also evaluate and treat players for the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Fire. I have spent the last 18 years working with youth, high school and collegiate athletes with concussion and other traumatic brain injuries. I sit on the Board of Directors for the Brain Injury Association of Illinois, as well as the National Advisory Committee for USA Football's Heads Up program, the US Soccer Concussion Committee, and the Amateur Hockey Association of Illinois' Safety Committee.
2. As football season is starting up, what is the most important advice you have for moms of youth athletes?
Educate yourself on sports safety, but make sure you are getting the information from reputable sources. There is a great deal of misinformation on concussions and other health topics and it can be incredibly overwhelming for parents to sort through it all. We need parents to play an active role in sports safety.
3. Based on your experience with professional athletes, what advice do you have for youth that are getting into the sport?
Don't make playing in the professional leagues your only goal! We know statistically that a very small percentage of athletes will ever play professional sports and there is limited collegiate scholarship support available as well. While we don't want to discourage big dreams, we want kids to focus on playing safe, having fun, being active, making new friends, and learning about themselves through competition. The few that do make it to the professional leagues worked hard, but were not repetitively injured and did not get burned out on their sport. We really want to discourage kids from specializing in one sport and playing any sport all year long. Even the best athletes need to give their bodies a break so they remain both physically and mentally healthy.
4. What progress or changes are you seeing being made in order to make football a better and safer game for our athletes?
There have been multiple changes to the game that have improved safety; including rule changes, improvements in equipment, education to coaches, parents and players on concussions and heat/hydration issues, increased access to athletic trainers, and improved assessment and treatment methods. Current research continues to look at a multitude of different facets of the game to try to reduce injuries. However, the risk of injury remains in any contact sport and we want coaches, athletes and parents to be diligent about safe practices and honest reporting of injuries.
5. What would you say is the most important question a current or potential football mom should ask their child's doctor in regards to football health and safety?
A parent wants to make sure their child has a thorough pre-participation physical prior to the start of their sports season. There are certain physical conditions that preclude a child from playing a contact sport.
6. What is your favorite part of your job working with these athletes?
The vast majority of my patients are youth athletes and they tend to be highly driven, goal-directed kids. They are proud of their identity as athletes and this self-confidence spills over into other aspects of their lives. It's fantastic to be surrounded by these kids who play because they are passionate about their sports, not because of dreams of being professional athletes.