Government-backed trial for concussion app

A scoreboard at the 2022 football World Cup shows a concussion substitute
Top-level football is continuing to trial the use of concussion substitutes

An app that helps identify and manage concussion in grassroots and school sport is set to be scrutinised in a two-year government-backed trial.

SportSmart is a digital injury management platform designed by a charitable company set up by former McLaren F1 team owner Ron Dennis.

It allows users to record and manage head injuries, suspected concussions and other sports-related injuries.

That information can then be shared instantly with all relevant parties.

The app has been well received in initial trials, and sports minister Stuart Andrew said: “I would encourage organisations to get involved.”

In April, the government announced UK-wide concussion guidelines for grassroots sport aimed at parents, coaches, referees and players.

The data from the app trial will help test whether those guidelines – with the mantra ‘if in doubt, sit it out’ – are effective.

The NHS and many sports authorities have not routinely collected data on the number of concussions in grassroots sport.

Brain injury charity Headway estimates 1.4 million people attend A&E in England and Wales with some type of head injury each year, with 95% of those classed as mild.

Andy Hunt, who headed Team GB at the London 2012 Olympics, said data on concussion in grassroots sport had been limited because it was always considered too difficult to co-ordinate and collate.

Hunt – now chief executive of Podium Analytics, which designed the app – said: “We want to do this because we want to make sport safer and we want to give kids the opportunity to participate in sport for the rest of their lives.

“Hopefully it will lead to great science that will help to solve some of these issues that are not fixed. Concussion is a massive issue and we need to massively improve our understanding.

“We want parents, we want coaches, we want volunteers, we want teachers to know what to do and how to manage the new UK concussion guidelines.”

Andrew said sport was “vital” to physical and mental wellbeing and it was “crucial” to prioritise safety for all involved.

“Technology has an important role to play in tracking and measuring the incidence of concussion at a grassroots level,” he added.

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What is concussion?

Concussion – a traumatic brain injury affecting mental function – can alter the way someone thinks, feels and remembers things.

Only about 10% result in being knocked out and losing consciousness.

Effects are usually temporary and most people recover fully with rest.

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Podium Analytics is part-funded by CVC Capital Partners – the private equity firm which has been a major investor in many sports including football, Formula 1, rugby union and tennis.

The free app includes a head-injury tool with a traffic-light system to automatically notify users of a player’s availability to train or play during and after the new minimum 21-day return-to-play period following a concussion.

Some critics have argued there should be complete separation of ‘big sport’ interests from scientific research into concussion.

“It means staff are aware of it and students value the significance of looking after themselves after a concussion and start to understand what the injury is,” said Phil Beaumont – director of rugby at Northampton School for Boys, the recently crowned England Under-15 schools champions.

“It used to be a taboo subject, and now they’re realising they do need to sit out to recover gradually.

“You can’t see concussion and we therefore have to err on the side of caution. Having parents on board to track that, as well and having the stages clearly identified so all the coaches know what’s next in that process, is crucial.”

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