Concussions in Youth Sports Virtual Classroom: Featuring Hayley Wickenheiser and Scott Russell

Concussions in Youth Sports Virtual Classroom: Featuring Hayley Wickenheiser and Scott Russell

The NFB, in partnership with Ryerson University, presented a Virtual Classroom about sports, concussions and the pressure to play through head injuries even though mental health issues typically ensue. Mental slowing, depression, substance abuse, mood disorders… they can all show up later, causing devastating long-term effects. When coaches, medics and fans all support the culture of powering through, it’s high school athletes who are losing out—sometimes for life. We took a look at the consequences of concussions, particularly on mental health, and questioned the pressure to keep playing no matter what the cost.


CBC Sports veteran Scott Russell.


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Powering through injuries to claim victory is the stuff of sports legends. But as researchers from Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital have recently shown, when an athlete plays on despite sustaining a concussion, the mental health consequences can be devastating. This topic is timely, particularly as a government commission sets about examining the dangers of head injuries following the death of 17-year-old Ottawa rugby player Rowan Stringer. Offering a close look at the pressures young athletes face to take one for the team, our panel of experts discussed the potential invisible impacts of head injuries, from mood disorders to substance abuse issues to depression. We uncovered the stigma around mental health issues in sports and helped empower youth to make informed decisions on the field to better protect their future success in all areas of life.


Scott Russell

Scott Russell

CBC Sports veteran Scott Russell has covered 11 Olympic Games and won prestigious awards both for broadcasting and his dedication to amateur sports.


Hayley Wickenheiser

Hayley Wickenheiser

Five-time Olympic medalist, Hayley Wickenheiser is regarded as one of the best female hockey players in the world with an uncompromised determination and dedication to her sport. 

Dr. Ryan Todd

Ryan Todd

University of Toronto’s resident psychiatrist Dr. Ryan Todd was producer, subject and medical lead for the film A Dark Room. He specializes in psychiatric illness in athletes, and his mission is to ensure individuals with mental health injuries receive psychiatric care.

Max Taylor 

Max Taylor

Max Taylor is a former professional Hockey Player. On his way to accomplishing his lifelong dream of playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs, he got two concussions.  After these concussions, and being removed from the game he loved, he dealt with severe episodes of post-concussion depression. Max found help, got better, and is now thriving as a real estate agent in Toronto. Max is a strong advocate for sport-concussion awareness, prevention and treatment across Canada.

How to prepare for this Virtual Classroom

Watch the NFB documentary A Dark Room: A Story about Hockey, Concussions and the Path to Recovery with your students and lead a discussion on the issues it raises. Ask students to describe their first-hand experiences with sports injuries and the pressures to perform under duress. Discuss any high-profile news stories on this topic. Elicit your class’s opinions on sports-related mental health issues and how our sports culture could be overhauled.

The documentary A Dark Room and the Concussions in Youth Sports Virtual Classroom contain content and information about concussion recovery and mental health disorders linked to concussion that may provoke emotional responses from viewers and participants.

We recommend that educators collaborate with a school counsellor or a local youth mental-health service provider to create a learning environment that is safe and respectful, so that students can discuss these topics openly in the classroom.

  • The recommended age for viewers of the film A Dark Room and the accompanying Virtual Classroom event is 15+.

Steps to Prepare for the Virtual Classroom

  • Ensure that a school counselling professional is present for the screening of A Dark Room and the  Virtual Classroom to provide support to students who have questions about concussions and related mental health topics;
  • Before screening A Dark Room and participating in the Virtual Classroom discussion with our panel guests, please stress that  some difficult subject matter will be presented, such as substance abuse and suicide in connection to concussions;
  • Provide students with information about 24-hour support lines (Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868).

Concussion Education Resources

These materials will help you and your students to gain a clearer understanding of the nature and possible mental health effects of head injuries.

Halton Student Concussion Education Program (HSCEP)

These e-modules, have been adapted to be age-appropriate for students in grades 3,  6 and 9. They combine compelling graphics and informative audio, and they were designed by a learning specialist to be interactive, to make learning more effective and solidify students’ understanding of concussion as a serious brain injury. They are based on the latest published research, protected by copyright, and accessible free through the Sport Concussion Library website. The modules are geared towards educating individuals but do not constitute certification courses. The modules are accompanied by instructors’ and coaches’ scripts.

Concussion & You: A Handbook for Parents and Kids

Experts in youth concussion from the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital Concussion Centre have prepared this handbook to help kids, teenagers and their patents with concussion management and recovery. It provides basic information about concussions and their potential effects on mind and body. And it also offers recovery strategies and tools, including a recovery timeline with visuals, to inform the return to school, sports and other physical activities.

Concussion Tool Kit from Parachute Canada

This web-based tool kit on concussions was designed by Canadian concussion experts to help create the conditions for active and safer play, notably in hockey, football, rugby, soccer, baseball, ringette and lacrosse. It helps coaches, trainers, parents, athletes and health-care professionals recognize and prevent serious brain injuries.  The Tool Kit provides sobering statistics around concussions in youth sports and outlines the 3Es Approach—Education, Enforcement and Engineering—to concussion prevention and management.

Participate in a St. Michael’s Hospital Research Study

A Dark Room: An Educational Documentary on the Psychiatric Effects of Hockey Concussion   The purpose of this research is to measure how well high school students learn about mental health and head injury through documentary films. The film will be shown to educate students about the health effects of sport concussion. More than 1,000,000 concussions occur in North America every year. Sports-related concussions lead to 500,000 children requiring hospital care annually. To date, there have been no large-scale, film-based educational programs created to address the effects of concussion.

Learn more about the research study.

Access to the film A Dark Room on CAMPUS

Your ministry of education or school board may have already purchased a subscription to CAMPUS for you. Please click on the following links to check if your organization already has a subscription or to purchase a subscription for yourself or your school. Contact us at if you have questions about CAMPUS.

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