Dr. Dr. Gillian Hotz is the director of the KiDZ Neuroscience Center and the sports concussion program at the University of Miami. And now, she can add videogame developer to her resume.
This fall, Hotz is piloting an educational video game with youth football leagues across the country.
The game is called SportzSafe. And it’s designed to teach young players how to prevent, identify and address concussions.
Hotz sat down with Health News Florida’s Sammy Mack to talk about the game and concussion prevention across Florida.
How can a video game that's played on a tablet prevent injuries—real physical injuries—on the field?
There's a lot of research now being done about why do we have this fascination with these devices. It's very addictive. And it's the frontal lobes that are taking control and it's giving you freedom to explore without any penalty.
So we said, OK, in about 20-25 minutes, how do we do this? And so we thought this is how we would do it; we would put together everything from how to put on your helmet, to tackling, to really looking at the signs and symptoms of what concussion is all about.
You have talked about this program also being for parents. How does a parent playing this game help them keep their kids safe?
Well that's where the issue is. The kid really doesn't care about playing safe. They just want to get out there and have a good time and be with their friends.
It's the parents that we're finding are very worried about what they're hearing about concussion. And we're trying to say to parents, look, we can do this safer, we can do this better.
And I always say to parents, “would you drop your child off at a swimming pool without a lifeguard that's certified?” And they always say 'of course not.' So why would you drop your child off at a football field, or a hockey rink, or a soccer field without somebody there who's trained to actually teach them the right way to play the game. And also—God forbid—if there is an injury, what to do.
How did you test the effectiveness of this game?
We’ve had some focus groups with multiple coaches, parents and actually kids playing the game—and that's how we got to the final game.
We’ll be taking some teams that have had and haven't had the game, and we'll be tracking their progress through the season and actually seeing if any of this matters.
You were one of the people who pushed really hard for mandatory sideline screening for high school football in Miami-Dade County. And now there is a statewide law that is somewhat based on the Miami program that a kid has to be removed from play and they have to be cleared by a doctor before they can go back. How have you seen those policies change the concussion rates in Florida?
We’re just at the beginning of that. And one of the, I guess, concerns I have is that it's great to have legislation and every state now has legislation—but now the thing is: How do we police that and how do we start tracking? It's not mandatory for every program to collect their data on numbers of concussions, so we're still relying on hospital admissions or anybody seen in an emergency room that has a specific concussion code. But most people don't go to an ER.
Why is concussion prevention so important to you?
My whole career, the worst thing to see is a kid with a severe brain injury, and the family is devastated.
You’re always thinking to yourself—and I know every physician, nurse, all of us in there—how do we prevent some of these things from happening?
And you have to start with education.