Concussions can occur without loss of consciousness.
Concussions can occur in any sport.
Recognition and proper management of concussions when they first occur can help prevent further injury or even death.
WHAT IS A CONCUSSION?
A concussion is an injury that changes how the cells in the brain normally work. A concussion is caused by a blow to the head or body that causes the brain to move rapidly inside the skull. Even a “ding,” “getting your bell rung,” or what seems to be a mild bump or blow to the head can be serious. Concussions can also result from a fall or from players colliding with each other or with obstacles, such as a goalpost.
The potential for concussions is greatest in athletic environments where collisions are common.1 Concussions can occur, however, in any organized or unorganized sport or recreational activity. As many as 3.8 million sports- and recreation-related concussions occur in the United States each year.2
RECOGNIZING A POSSIBLE CONCUSSION
To help recognize a concussion, you should watch for the following two things among your athletes:
A forceful blow to the head or body that results in rapid movement of the head.
Any change in the athlete’s behavior, thinking, or physical functioning. (See the signs and symptoms of concussion.)
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
Signs observed by coaching staff
Appears dazed or stunned
Is confused about assignment or position
Forgets sports plays
Is unsure of game, score, or opponent
Answers questions slowly
Loses consciousness (even briefly)
Shows behavior or personality changes
Can’t recall events prior to hit or fall
Can’t recall events after hit or fall
Symptoms Reported By Athlete
Headache or “pressure” in head
Nausea or vomiting
Balance problems or dizziness
Double or blurry vision
Sensitivity to light
Sensitivity to noise
Feeling sluggish, hazy, foggy, or groggy
Concentration or memory problems
Does not “feel right”
Adapted from Lovell et al. 2004
Athletes who experience any of these signs or symptoms after a bump or blow to the head should be kept from play until given permission to return to play by a health care professional with experience in evaluating for concussion. Signs and symptoms of concussion can last from several minutes to days, weeks, months, or even longer in some cases.
Remember, you can’t see a concussion and some athletes may not experience and/or report symptoms until hours or days after the injury. If you have any suspicion that your athlete has a concussion, you should keep the athlete out of the game or practice.
PREVENTION AND PREPARATION
As a coach, you can play a key role in preventing concussions and responding to them properly when they occur. Here are some steps you can take to ensure the best outcome for your athletes and the team:
Educate athletes and parents about concussion. Talk with athletes and their parents about the dangers and potential long-term consequences of concussion. For more information on long-term effects of concussion, view the following online video clip: http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/tbi/Coaches_Tool_Kit.htm#Video. Explain your concerns about concussion and your expectations of safe play to athletes, parents, and assistant coaches. Pass out the concussion fact sheets for athletes and for parents at the beginning of the season and again if a concussion occurs.
Insist that safety comes first.
Teach athletes safe playing techniques and encourage them to follow the rules of play.
Encourage athletes to practice good sportsmanship at all times.
Make sure athletes wear the right protective equipment for their activity (such as helmets, padding, shin guards, and eye and mouth guards). Protective equipment should fit properly, be well maintained, and be worn consistently and correctly.
Review the athlete fact sheet with your team to help them recognize the signs and symptoms of a concussion.
Check with your youth sports league or administrator about concussion policies. Concussion policy statements can be developed to include the league’s commitment to safety, a brief description of concussion, and information on when athletes can safely return to play following a concussion (i.e., an athlete with known or suspected concussion should be kept from play until evaluated and given permission to return by a health care professional). Parents and athletes should sign the concussion policy statement at the beginning of the sports season.
Teach athletes and parents that it’s not smart to play with a concussion. Sometimes players and parents wrongly believe that it shows strength and courage to play injured. Discourage others from pressuring injured athletes to play. Don’t let athletes persuade you that they’re “just fine” after they have sustained any bump or blow to the head. Ask if players have ever had a concussion.
Prevent long-term problems. A repeat concussion that occurs before the brain recovers from the first—usually within a short period of time (hours, days, or weeks)—can slow recovery or increase the likelihood of having long-term problems. In rare cases, repeat concussions can result in brain swelling, permanent brain damage, and even death. This more serious condition is called second impact syndrome.4,5 Keep athletes with known or suspected concussion from play until they have been evaluated and given permission to return to play by a health care professional with experience in evaluating for concussion. Remind your athletes: “It’s better to miss one game than the whole season.”
WHAT SHOULD A COACH DO WHEN A CONCUSSION IS SUSPECTED?
Remove the athlete from play. Look for the signs and symptoms of a concussion if your athlete has experienced a bump or blow to the head. Athletes who experience signs or symptoms of concussion should not be allowed to return to play. When in doubt, keep the athlete out of play.
Ensure that the athlete is evaluated right away by an appropriate health care professional. Do not try to judge the severity of the injury yourself. Health care professionals have a number of methods that they can use to assess the severity of concussions. As a coach, recording the following information can help health care professionals in assessing the athlete after the injury:
Cause of the injury and force of the hit or blow to the head
Any loss of consciousness (passed out/knocked out) and if so, for how long
Any memory loss immediately following the injury
Any seizures immediately following the injury
Number of previous concussions (if any)
Inform the athlete’s parents or guardians about the possible concussion and give them the fact sheet on concussion. Make sure they know that the athlete should be seen by a health care professional experienced in evaluating for concussion.
Allow the athlete to return to play only with permission from a health care professional with experience in evaluating for concussion. A repeat concussion that occurs before the brain recovers from the first can slow recovery or increase the likelihood of having long-term problems. Prevent common long-term problems and the rare second impact syndrome by delaying the athlete’s return to the activity until the player receives appropriate medical evaluation and approval for return to play.
If you think your athlete has sustained a concussion…
take him/her out of play, and
seek the advice of a health care professional experienced in evaluating for concussion.
Powell JW. Cerebral concussion: causes, effects, and risks in sports. Journal of Athletic Training 2001; 36(3):307-311.
Langlois JA, Rutland-Brown W, Wald M. The epidemiology and impact of traumatic brain injury: a brief overview.Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation2006; 21(5):375-378.
Lovell MR, Collins MW, Iverson GL, Johnston KM, Bradley JP. Grade 1 or “ding” concussions in high school athletes. The American Journal of Sports Medicine 2004; 32(1):47-54.
Institute of Medicine (US). Is soccer bad for children’s heads? Summary of the IOM Workshop on Neuropsychological Consequences of Head Impact in Youth Soccer. Washington (DC): National Academy Press; 2002.