'Concussion ended my husband’s AFL career and changed our lives forever. Here's what we want parents to know about contact sports.'

Bupa Dental
Thanks to our brand partner, Bupa Dental

Children playing contact sports. It’s a touchy subject among parents who are constantly walking the fine line between keeping their kids safe and allowing them the freedom to do things they enjoy. 

When it comes to Aussie Rules, concussion is the most common injury requiring hospitalisation. Almost just as concerning is that 50 per cent of the time concussions are asymptomatic, so they can't be managed properly by parents. 

It’s a tough call, isn’t it?

Well, for Annie Nolan and her husband Liam Picken, it’s a decision they had to make after Liam’s own life was drastically altered by concussion.

In April 2019, Liam had to announce his retirement from AFL Football after the ongoing symptoms of four serious concussions proved too great a health risk to continue playing.

“I lived with a headache for virtually 18 months,” Liam told Mamamia.

“It was obviously very stressful and traumatic to finish playing like that and to have to go through rehabilitation with a young family, and not be able to live and work for two years.”

Even with new technology available like Bupa Dental's HITIQ Smart Mouthguard, for Annie it made the decision to allow their son Malachy to play footy a really tough one. 

“What do they say about motherhood? Your heart is walking around outside of your body and you can try but you can’t really do all that much to fully protect it,” Annie shared.

With active prevention and education around head injuries being the key, their son does play footy. 


“I understand that there’s also consequences if I wrap Malachy up and I don’t let him do things that he wants to do, and I don’t want him to grow up and resent me just because I’m dictating to him what he should and shouldn’t do just because of the trauma of his father.”

For those on the outside, especially in the footy world, it was hard to understand just how much of an impact concussion had on their family.

“Obviously you can’t be there for your kids. I had a headache and all these other range of symptoms and to function in life was really difficult because I had constant pain so then you can’t be there as a dad,” Liam shared with Mamamia

“So for two years, my wife was caring for me. There aren't the same facilities in a footy club for head injuries so your family is left to carry a lot of the burden and support you through that.”

After supporting her husband through such a traumatic time and sitting on the sidelines to watch her son play the same game every weekend, one afternoon Annie’s fears became a reality.


“He actually did get knocked out. It was horrific,” Annie recalled. “It just felt like I was reliving it all again.”

“I remember everyone looking at us and going ‘oh no that poor family, here we go again’ so to be honest I didn’t really want him to play after that — I hated it.”

Thankfully, Malachy didn’t have the same response as his dad did and he was okay but after living through Liam’s rehabilitation at home, he started asking questions.

“He would ask us, ‘Am I going to have to stay in a dark room for a year?’ and all these things that his dad did.”

After her son’s concussion, Annie was determined to find a better way for parents to have more peace of mind when watching their children play contact sport. 

“Obviously as a mum I’ve looked into so many different things. With helmets, the science there just doesn’t suggest that they really help that much but these mouthguards are one thing that will seriously help my anxiety.” 

The HITIQ Smart Mouthguard combines a head impact surveillance system within a traditional custom fit mouthguard. 

Sensors within the HITIQ Smart Mouthguard detect significant head trauma with the system assessing the data, registering and classifying the head impacts.

Alerts are then sent to the HITIQ app on a smart device, alerting players or parents of serious head impacts and helping mitigate the risk of concussions going undiagnosed.

“These are the sort of things that weren’t available to me growing up and even playing AFL football so for parents to be able to have that option of peace of mind and be able to provide more details to medical practitioners is incredible,” Liam shared.

We know that head impacts have lasting impacts — but now you can help protect your kids from the sidelines. 

There's no denying that watching your child play contact sport can be challenging. But, with Bupa Dental's HITIQ Smart Mouthguard, you can watch from the sidelines with the knowledge that any head impacts will be monitored and tracked. 

To get your hands on this new technology, head over to the Bupa Dental website.

Feature Image: Getty.

Bupa Dental
, HIT IQ smart mouthguards are available to players of all levels exclusively through Bupa Dental practices. The Bupa Dental Clinician takes a 3D scan of the player's mouth at a dental consult. The scan is used to fabricate the custom-fit HIT IQ mouthguard which looks and feels like a usual custom fit mouthguard. The mouthguard is fitted and checked by the Bupa Dental Clinician. Go to to find out more or book a consultation.