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Hi-tech mouthguards to help tackle concussion

Mark Robinson, April 7, 2021 6:30PM Herald Sun

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Harper Mai, 8 and Jonah Mai, 10, show off the new mouthguards with the data chip technology to monitor head knocks. Picture: Jake Nowakowski media_cameraHarper Mai, 8 and Jonah Mai, 10, show off the new mouthguards with the data chip technology to monitor head knocks. Picture: Jake Nowakowski

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Revolutionary* mouthguards fitted with hi-tech chips to monitor head knocks are planned to be made available to the football community within two years.

The AFL started trialling the data chip in 2019 and it is now being used by half the players across the league.

By the end of the year, the groundbreaking* concussion technology will be available to every player, and is expected to be provided to AFLW players by next year.

In a huge leap forward for community football, the mouthguard device is expected to be rolled out for all grades, including juniors, by 2023.

Concussion, a brain injury caused by a knock to the head, is a major issue in AFL football and other contact sports around the world.

It can cause symptoms such as headaches and problems with concentration, memory, balance and co-ordination. While the effects are usually temporary, there is growing evidence that concussion can cause long-term problems.

Footy Kids media_cameraYoung footballer Harper Mai with the new mouthguard. Picture: Jake Nowakowski.

The custom-made mouthguard costs up to $500 but the AFL will discuss making it more affordable at grassroots* levels with developer HitIQ.

The mouthguard has a sensor chip inside it and is moulded to fit a player’s teeth.

The chip logs all head knocks, including acute* impacts and knocks that don’t cause concussion symptoms at the time but can add up over a longer period.

The AFL has, this year, ­injected cash into a broader rollout of the technology after two years of trials, which ­initially involved four clubs.

The aim is to give players, medical experts, clubs and the AFL data to help diagnose athletes with concussions and brain­­ ­injuries, and rehabilitate* them.

“What we’ve been able to do with the mouthguard is effectively turn it into a sensor device,” said HitIQ managing ­director Mike Vegar.

“We’re able to identify and monitor every single head ­impact that the players experience.”

media_cameraHitIQ managing director Mike Vegar with the hi-tech mouthguard.

Mr Vegar said the sensor chip mouthguard would provide the AFL with a big database* on head knocks and concussion, leading to a better understanding of the problem and better care for footballers.

“There are going to be so many insights* that come out of this data set — and ultimately it’s going to be a great outcome for the athlete,” he said.

About 400 AFL players ­already wear the chip system.

The AFL has committed $1 million a year over a decade for further concussion studies and projects.

AFL general counsel ­Andrew Dillon said the mouthguard project would provide valuable data to the league and concussion experts.

“The partnership with HitIQ and the data we can get from the mouthguards will be extremely important in furthering our research in this area,” Mr Dillon said.

“The partnership and study will complement* our continued action in this space over recent years, including strengthening of the match-day protocols* and amendments* to the Laws of the Game to discourage high contact.”

The four AFL clubs involved in the 2019 trials were Essendon, St Kilda, Carlton and Western Bulldogs. Eight clubs agreed to be part of the trials in 2020.

The technology has also been trialled in the NRL, ­including with players from Melbourne Storm.

media_cameraMelbourne player Kysaiah Pickett wears the new mouthguard technology. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

Father of two and junior football medic* Ashley Mai, whose sons Jonah, 10, and Harper, 8, play for Eltham Junior Football Club in Victoria, welcomed the technology, saying he was concerned about kids suffering head knocks.

“Having something to give you feedback is fantastic,” he said.

“I think the technology is really good, especially being a medic myself and having to deal with head knocks during footy games.”

GLOSSARY

  • revolutionary: causing a complete change
  • groundbreaking: introducing new ideas
  • grassroots: basic, involving ordinary people
  • acute: severe
  • rehabilitate: heal, return to normal
  • database: collection of information, usually on a computer
  • insights: understanding
  • complement: add to, make complete
  • protocols: rules
  • amendments: changes
  • medic: medical expert

EXTRA READING

Concussion: what is it and how does it happen?

What AFL players of 2050 will look like

QUICK QUIZ

  1. By what year are junior footballers expected to have access to the new mouthguards?
  2. What is concussion?
  3. Name three symptoms of concussion.
  4. How many AFL players are currently wearing the new mouthguards?
  5. Name two AFL clubs involved in the 2019 trials.

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Tell the team
Create a 5 minute presentation that you could make to your local junior football team, informing them about this new mouthguard technology so that they will want use them. Think about how to best communicate with your audience to tell them what it does, how it works and the benefits to players. Use props or audio visual effects to add impact to your presentation.

Give your presentation to a small audience or record it to view back.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English

2. Extension
How could this type of technology be adapted for use in other sports? Think of another way that sensors could be incorporated into sporting apparel or equipment to improve safety or performance.

Draw a picture of your idea and write a paragraph explaining how it would work.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Science

VCOP ACTIVITY
Grammar and VCOP
The glossary of terms helps you to understand and learn the ambitious vocabulary being used in the article. Can you use the words outlined in the glossary to create new sentences? Challenge yourself to include other VCOP (vocabulary, connectives, openers and punctuation) elements in your sentence/s.

Have another look through the article, can you find any other Wow Words not outlined in the glossary?

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