Tips for Parents

Sports have always been a big part of my life. Growing up in Nebraska, fall meant football, and it was everything to win that week’s game! While I enjoyed playing basketball, I absolutely loved football.

During each practice, we learned much about each other — and about life. We talked about each other’s family, and over time, we became a family. We learned to count on each other to do the job our position required, building trust in others. We learned patience, seeing others work on their athleticism and techniques. In our office, we often say how you can’t “unlearn” the skills taught during those years. Ain’t that the truth.

It will come as no surprise that I’m concerned that so many parents are pulling their kids from sports. Youth sports are at an all-time low in America and at the same time, we have the highest rate ever of childhood obesity, and more kids are leading sedentary lifestyles. It’s not just the soft-skills taught in these years that we should be considering; it’s the healthy future of our kids.

Football has gotten most of the pressure, yet in all sports, there are risks of an injury. How can we encourage kids to stay in sports such as football and still feel like we’re doing the best job possible as parents?

First, find out what interests them. Football, basketball, volleyball, whatever it is, and have a conversation about what they’d like to do. This often means trying out a few sports, seeing what they are good at doing. It doesn’t happen overnight, and worth the time spent!

Meet with the coach or athletic director at their school. Ask them questions about the program’s safety, finding out more about protocols they are using after an injury. Ask tough questions about how they are creating a culture of safety, one that ensures kids are safe to discuss injuries without judgment or bullying from other players.

Talk to other parents. There are groups on Facebook that may offer a quick view of the culture at your school, and that’s helpful. I would say you should try to meet with parents as well, such as going to a game and striking up a conversation. They’re on the front lines and can offer lots of insight!

Do the research online. Check out what others in the industry are doing to protect their players, and become familiar with the language they are using. As parents, it is up to us to do our homework. Whether it’s getting behind the wheel of a car or playing sports, we know our kids are at risk of an injury. It’s up to us to support each other with the facts and thus offering our kids the best chance to get the lessons we want them to learn in their early years.

My father was a teacher and coach, and my identical twin (yes, there are two of us!) and I were lucky to have his leadership guiding us. He stressed the fun we’d have if we got involved, and pushed us in positive ways to stay the course. As parents, that’s what we all should hope to provide for our kids.


When we built the original Kato Collar, we knew it would be a game changer in player safety. Colleges, universities, high schools, and individual players are all preventing head and neck injuries with Kato Collar. We were just getting started.

On Thursday, May 17, we’re launching our crowdfunding campaign to fuel research, development, and delivery of a youth collar. We’re organizing parents and teams who realize there’s a lack of gear that addresses the frequency, severity, and recovery times of head and neck injuries. This fear of injuries is preventing athletes of all ages from the sport they love.

So today, this is a big announcement for us. It’s been a long road but we’ve got no intention of stopping or slowing down.

In high school, college and the NFL, the shoulder pads are streamlined to fit tightly over the shoulders and around the chest. Because it’s a tight-fitting jersey, it’s easy for us to attach our adult Kato Collar to the shoulder pads and prevent movement of the collar. Additionally, there are many fewer variations in shoulder pads and other gear so we can guarantee a comfortable fit for our players.

However, it’s different for our youth and junior high football players. The design for this size of collar presents some interesting challenges:

  • There are infinitely many different sizes of players.
  • There are few choices on sizes of shoulder pads currently available to youth participants. As a result, the jerseys are loose fitting jerseys to accommodate the different sizes of athletes.

We worked with the Iron Range Engineering School in our home state of Minnesota, to have them help us research and prototype options for how we can devise a collar that fits to the player, not the pads. We saw this opportunity as a way to listen to new voices in the football community, to help us think outside the box. As my career has been grounded in college sports, I also found this to be a great opportunity for real-world learning for the students. And Iron Range Engineering is among the top engineering schools in the country, so this was a chance to work with some of the brightest and best young people you could ask for!

As a result, we determined early on that a collar attached to the shoulder pads of junior high and youth players would not be as effective due to a migration of the collar during play. It required additional product design considerations. We had three potential approaches:

  • Sewing the collar into a tight-fitting shirt
  • Utilizing various harness mechanisms to attach our collar to the torso and shoulders
  • Attaching the collar via a protective vest

Essentially the collar itself remains a similar design. Our patent is on the collar, not the flange that attaches it to the equipment or the player. Additionally, this design is the essence of our collar, ensuring a discreet design while offering the airbags to slow down the head after impact.

It’s the flange. We need to have a different way to attach the collar itself to the player.

We’ll get there, for sure. I have never been the kind of person to give up on something just because it’s too hard or seems impossible to accomplish. Yet I know we can’t do it alone. Just like the partnership with the students at the Iron Range School, I am listening to other voices in our football communities to develop this collar, and need help bringing it to market. We’ll get there, yes; yet we have kids playing now that are at too much risk of injury. Our goal is to have it on players for fall ‘18 football season.

Guardian Athletics and the football community are asking for your support to help make a Youth Kato Collar to all youth football participants. Our goal is to have a youth and junior high collar available during fall 2018.  To do this we need your help! Your financial support will be used for research, design, and completion of a product to make the game safer for our youth playing the game they love. Join us in our quest to prevent injuries, make the game safer and LET THEM PLAY!

A bit more about the Iron Range School:

Iron Range Engineering (IRE) has been recognized as one of the top 10 emerging world leaders in engineering education through the recent publication of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology research study.

Iron Range Engineering provides an engineering education to graduates of Minnesota’s community colleges. Using an innovative approach based on the latest research on how people learn, the IRE model guides students to develop the wide variety of technical, professional, and design knowledge and skills that engineers need to succeed in the ever-changing world.

IRE is located on the Mesabi Range College campus in Virginia, Minnesota. The program is supported by the Iron Range Higher Education Committee and the Department of Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation, and funded through the Iron Range Higher Education Account. The program is delivered by a university-college partnership between Minnesota State University, Mankato, and Itasca Community College. Please, check out their website and Facebook page for more info!

For more info about our crowdfunding, please click here. Please donate at any amount!

What is Heads Up Training?

Over my years as a trainer, I always kept abreast of the latest in techniques and researched/implemented parts that worked best to improve player safety. I’m often asked what I think about these programs, and I’m happy to share my thoughts with you here.

There are two main Heads Up Programs:

  1. CDC’s Heads Up Concussion program for youth and high school sports
  2. USA’s Heads Up Football program for youth, and junior and senior high school sports. [USA’s program for Jr. & Sr. high school is combined with the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).]

CDC’s Heads Up program focuses on changing the culture of concussions through online education and printed materials for parents, coaches, and athletes of all ages through their high school years. Their educational courses and materials focus on recognition and understanding of a concussion, return to play/activity after a concussion, and prevention of concussion.

USA’s Heads Up Football program is focused on creating a culture of football safety going beyond just focusing on concussion. They offer professional development courses and coaching certifications at all levels of football which address recognition of concussion and prevention of concussion through proper coaching technique and proper equipment fitting. USA Football Heads Up also addresses youth coaching philosophy.

As a former Certified Athletic Trainer for close to 35 years and the Founder of Guardian Athletics, I support any program that advocates for player safety. The CDC Heads Up program focuses on recognition and follow-up care of a concussion to ensure proper healing a mild traumatic brain injury to prevent the next episode from occurring. USA Football Heads Up program focuses on recognizing a concussion and goes into prevention through education of coaches and players on the proper fundamentals of tackling and blocking. Additionally, their program addresses a couple other injuries/illnesses occurring in football.

People are looking for a quick answer to the concussion question. There isn’t one. The keys are education and innovation. Guardian Athletics believes concussion prevention is a combination of properly fitted equipment, coaching the correct fundamentals of tackling and blocking, education on the recognition and proper care of concussions, and innovation of equipment for protection against concussions. Not one thing will safeguard against all concussions, but if we combine all of these things together in a concerted effort we can reduce the number and significance of concussions.

I encourage you to review these programs and implement them at a scale that makes sense for you. And if you have utilized these training mechanisms, I want to hear from you. What worked well? What didn’t? Send me your thoughts at

What’s Active Range of Motion?

When someone or something indicates that there is full range of motion (ROM) it is important to understand the context in which it is being used for description. Active Range of Motion (AROM) and Passive Range of Motion (PROM) may be very different, and the terms are generally used to describe the movement of various joints of the body. AROM means how far a joint moves without assistance. This motion consists of how far you can move your joint in any given direction. PROM is assessed to determine the amount of movement possible at a joint. PROM occurs when you are relaxed, and an athletic trainer or physical therapist moves your joint to the extreme end ROM to attain the maximum range existing for that joint. It is important to note most joints have more PROM than AROM.

The neck (cervical spine) providing for the motion of the head may have the most difference of AROM to PROM. This is referred to as head and neck motions. As a Certified Athletic Trainer, I noticed this early in my career there was more passive head and neck motion than active, yet to locate the numbers or percentages on the difference when researching was difficult to find. There is not much documentation out there for this specific comparison. Based on my research and experience I conservatively indicate that the head and neck have 15 to 20% more PROM than AROM. This is important to note when you look at how a joint is injured.

Most injuries occur when a joint is forced beyond its extreme, beyond the end of PROM and this is no different for the head and neck. In football (or for that matter, any activity or sport) when the head is hit directly as in helmet to helmet, an indirect hit where the head and neck are whipped into motion, if they go beyond the extreme, past the end PROM that is where the injury occurs. This is where the burner/stinger injury occurs and when the brain is injured after the initial impact of the hit. Brain injury does not just occur from the impact of a collision when the brain comes toward the site of the contact, yet also can occur when the head and neck change directions and move away from the impact with the twisting, turning, and whipping away from the impact.

How do we slow down this twisting, turning movement from going past the end PROM where the injuries happen? One thing we know is the helmet can’t protect this movement as it is attached to the head. Some even claim it adds to the force that is exerted in this motion past the extreme. We believe there is only one way: You must slow the head and neck down, not let it get to the extreme and bring it to a gradual stop. And you must do this with a device that allows for full AROM for the player for performance.

We’ll talk more in the future about ROM in the future when we discuss acceleration and deceleration of the brain from hits. As always, I invite you to connect with me to continue the discussion on this crucial aspect of player safety.

Field Tester: Marcus Gooden

Marcus Gooden was a 5th year senior from Illinois who played linebacker and long snapper on punts and extra points for the 2015 Minnesota State Mavericks. He suffered from repeated burner/stingers, averaging 1-2 every game. Unfortunately, Marcus would have to leave for a series of plays to recover every time he sustained the injury in a game.

His Athletic Trainer at Minnesota State Mankato worked to prevent the injury from occurring through treatment, rehabilitation, and protection with other collars yet couldn’t prevent his burner/stinger from recurring. I worked with them to have Marcus wear our third prototype, and here’s what he had to say:

“My junior year I got a pretty bad stinger affecting my left shoulder and arm. Going into my senior year those stingers continued. I had one or two a game. I talked to Jeff, and he suggested I wear the collar. Deep into the season, I took his advice. As I wore the collar, I couldn’t believe it but, the stingers wore off. And I actually didn’t have any moving forward.”

This is why I developed our flagship product: To help players like Marcus stay on the field and to help protect from injuries.

How We Started

In the fall of 1997, I was the head athletic trainer at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. During this time, I had a football player named Greg Herlihy who suffered from repeated burner/stingers. Every time he got hit on the helmet it would force his head in a motion to his left and his left arm would go completely numb from the neck down. This would cause extreme shooting pain down his left upper extremity. This occurred numerous times during his career and progressively his recovery time from injuries would become longer. In fact, in his junior year, he could not attend practice for multiple weeks and had to miss his final game.

We performed as many diagnostic tests on him that we could; X-rays, MRI, bone scans and so on, and found no pathology (injury damage) that would keep him from returning to play. Up to this point, we had been trying to prevent the injury from occurring by using several different preventive/protective neck collars. Yet I could find none that would stop injury from occurring.

For the next eight months, we worked together to strengthen Greg’s neck and improve flexibility. I also placed him back in a traditional collar for prevention. Using a traditional collar, it must be positioned so the player can get their head up in their stance as well as keep their head up when making a tackle or block. If not, you set them up for an even more serious injury.

The second day of contact Greg took on a block from left outside linebacker in perfect position (head up, neck bowed, body in ready position and contact was made shoulder to shoulder, head to head on his right side. Greg’s head moved obliquely into extension, lateral rotation, and lateral flexion to the left. He immediately dropped to the ground as he had tingling, numbness and a sharp pain down his left upper extremity. As we walked off the field he said to me in frustration, “I can’t play football like this.” As his athletic trainer, I had no idea what to say to him, except whatever he decided I had his back.

I was so frustrated. I had tried everything I knew to try to prevent the injury; all the preventive collars, the necessary rehabilitation and treatment, and could not keep the injury from occurring. As I reflected upon this, I started to think about a more rounded collar, shaped like a half circle with something similar to a bicycle tire extending out from the collar. Over time I realized we put air pads in helmets. Why not a collar?

The sketches began. Brainstorming with colleagues. Talking to more players. This, my friends, is how Guardian Athletics began and I consider to be the birth of Kato Collar. It became clear that there were bigger issues facing the game of football than burner/stingers, and unfortunately, the industry wasn’t moving fast enough. There needed to be more products, training, and recovery techniques to protect players on the field.

We continued this innovative approach through a number of prototypes, and in late 2017 we started production on our current model, and begin shipping to teams in March 2018.

Burner/Stingers: We Can Help

Unless you are well versed in football, you likely haven’t heard of a burner/stinger.

Let’s start with the technical definition: The brachial plexus is a network of nerves that send signals from your spine to your shoulder, arm, and hand. When you have a brachial plexus injury or a BPI, it is when these nerves are stretched, compressed, or ripped apart from the spinal cord. When these occur, the player will feel something similar to an electrical shock on their arm, typically followed by numbness and/or weakness in the arm. This happens when the head is pushed to the side or down, and most have been considered to be part of the game and relatively harmless. And realistically, having one or two most likely are relatively harmless if treated correctly with proper recovery.

There are two main risks of the burner stinger, and they are interrelated:

  • Most trainers and players will agree that they go underreported, and 65% of players at a college level will experience in their career
  • 87% rate of reoccurrence

These two points indicate we have a larger problem here. Well over half of our players are experiencing a BPI and it’s likely that they haven’t had it happen just one time.

We have got to do better at protecting our players. And the mantra of, “walk it off, son” needs to get thrown in the trash.This isn’t something you walk off and jump back in the game. For all too long, that’s the main treatment that was used for these injuries. We know now that ongoing BPI’s lead to loss of feeling, muscle atrophy, and even permanent disability.

If you’ve experienced BPI’s, talk to your trainer and your doctor. Ask questions. And most importantly, listen to your body. If you or your trainer would like to learn more, please contact us and we’ll connect you to resources to help.

Concussions & CTE: What We Know

Over my 35 years of experience as an athletic trainer, I needed to communicate with athletes, coaches, parents, and physicians in a way that each understood what had occurred. In the most basic of words, a concussion is any blow to the head or the body that causes enough injury to the brain to elicit symptoms such as being dazed, confused, clumsy, lightheadedness, and/or impaired vision.

When it comes down to it, the diagnosis of a concussion is subjective. Currently there are no objective diagnostic tests that can be performed to confirm a concussion or determine severity. Most diagnostic tests are performed to rule out a serious brain injury, that could lead to permanent damage or catastrophic results. These tests are designed to diagnose Traumatic Brain Injury. Signs are different from symptoms. Signs are what can be observed, and symptoms are described by the athlete.

I don’t assume that everyone follows along with the current news about concussions and the information that we are learning about the destructive impact of CTE. These are serious; and most coaches and trainers have taken this very seriously throughout their careers. Yet we need to improve our game: There are safer ways to play while keeping the integrity of the sport alive.

What causes concussions?
A concussion is a serious injury to the brain resulting from the rapid acceleration and deceleration of brain tissue within the skull. Rapid movement causes brain tissue to change shape, which can stretch and damage brain cells. This damage also causes chemical and metabolic changes within the brain cells, making it more difficult for cells to function and communicate. (Source: Concussion Legacy Foundation)

What is CTE?
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative brain disease found in athletes, military veterans, and others with a history of repetitive brain trauma. The best available evidence tells us that CTE is caused by repetitive hits to the head sustained over a period of years. Most people diagnosed with CTE suffered hundreds or thousands of head impacts over the course of many years playing contact sports or serving in the military. And it’s not just concussions: the best available evidence points towards sub-concussive impacts, or hits to the head that don’t cause full-blown concussions, as the biggest factor. (Source: Concussion Legacy Foundation)

With a drop in youth football participation, few improvements to the gear that protects players on the field, and a lack of innovation, we believe there is ample room for improvement.

One airbag doesn’t save your life in a crash. Just like a helmet alone will save you from a concussion. When you are the field, you build confidence through technique and the right gear. Training, such as Heads Up, educate our players about a safer way to tackle. We realized there is a blank space out there; rapid acceleration and deceleration of the brain within the skull.

As shown above, with state-of-the-art testing done at Chesapeke Labs our collar is able to slow deceleration of the brain by up to 30%. Our objective is athlete safety. We designed Kato Collar to help provide protection against concussions, and decelerating the brain by nearly a third is going to make a positive impact on addressing that. We are committed to athlete safety and will continue to research and innovate ways to do that in football, as well as other high impact sports.

As more comes out in the research, theories are developing about what occurs inside the skull that causes injury to the brain after impact. I believe there is more to uncover with our approach to training, equipment, and how we improve recovery procedures. By first understanding and utilizing a common language, we’ll begin to realize how to approach concussions as they happen.