August 1, 2011

Get your heads in the game

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Brain coach Colleen Butler was holding class at Oceanside Place this past month as part of Acres Hockey — Bringing Smart Play To Hockey.  James Clarke

Brain navigator Colleen Butler brought her A-game to Oceanside Place this month, and the benefits will be far reaching.

This is the first year Acres Hockey Training has implemented the Bringing Smart Play To Hockey program — a joint effort by Henry Acres and Colleen Butler, a brain injury coach operating under the name Brain Navigators based out of Nanaimo. The program is designed to educate players and parents on the complicated issue of concussions.

When The News stopped by for one of Butler’s classes put on for the parents of the skaters at Acres Hockey, there were nine people on hand and Butler walked her students through the information using humour and smiles.

“It’s my nature, but I do believe that people learn through humour and fun,” she said when asked about the contrast between her teaching style and the subject matter, “and if I can make it fun they’ll retain the information longer. It is a serious subject — a concussion is serious business, and I really try to stress that.”

No two concussions are the same and there is no set formula to heal a concussion. Denial of being concussed is high yet, treated properly you will recover.

A concussion she explains, is an acquired brain injury and can be caused buy one or many blows to the head. A person may or may not be knocked out, but a concussion changes how your brain works and the effects may occur immediately or days later.

“Concussions effect everyone — it hurts the whole family,” she said, then made the point that when it comes to treating a concussion, “there is no time line, and that’s why getting them (the players) to take ownership and get to know their body is so important. I try to teach them how complex the brain is, but the biggest part is I want them to take ownership.”

“It’s great,” hockey dad Brad Templeton from Revelstoke (this is the third Acres Hockey camp his 10-year-old son Conner has attended) said of the program, adding, “it’s a big issue.”

Acres was busy wrapping things up on another successful series of summer hockey camps at Oceanside Place. His last Acres Hockey session wrapped up last Thursday. All told, about one hundred kids showed up over the last month to get some mentoring from the longtime European hockey player and instructor with roots to Oceanside.

“I’m very happy with how everything went with Butler and with all the instructors I had helping me,” said Acres, adding, “the kids had a great time; they had fun, they were safe, and we taught them something, so that feels really good.”

Butler, he continued, worked with about 55 kids and another 20 or so parents that took part in the sessions she offered. Each session was about two hours for the parents. She spent six to eight hours with the 12 to 14 year olds over the course of the week, and five or six hours with the younger group.

Beyond the drills and the chalk talk and the power skating, Acres also oversaw the extensive on-ice concussion classes, teaching the young charges concussion awareness for game situations — arming them with the pointers on the many little things a player can do to reduce the chances of being concussed: things like keeping their skates sharpened properly for better control; knowing where everyone is on the ice, and being aware of the well known danger spots in arenas such as the stanchions (where the glass joins) and behind the net.

Acres pointed out the main hot spots for head injuries, “are three to five feet from the boards and at the blue lines and the red lines.”

The biggest thing of all he says “is respect for the game respect for your opponents — no dirty head shots.”

He also talked to them about the new BC Hockey ruling regarding head contact. Every contact with a players head will result in a penalty starting this year — unintentional is a two minute minor, intentional at least four minutes and perhaps a game misconduct. An injury results in a minimum one-game suspension.

“We definitely accomplished what we were hoping. The kids were very receptive to learning how important it is to protect your brain,” said Acres, adding the two of them will sit down and evaluate how the new program went “and start to plan for next year.

“I think it went really well,” echoed Butler. “I think there was a lot of myths that were cleared up, and I think people understand that a concussion is a brain injury and that there’s no quick fix. I think all in all the message got across.”