Suffering from a concussion can occur in any sport and at all levels of play, from Little League to the major leagues. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates 1.6 million to 3.8 million concussions occur in sports and recreational activities each year. Early education and a shift in the “tough it out” mentality is needed in order to reduce the frequency of concussions in young athletes, as well as reduce the number of concussions that go undiagnosed. Parents and coaches have to raise the bar and set the standard that the athlete’s health is the first priority. Here’s what both parents and coaches need to know about concussions, prevention and treatment to ensure the safety of athletes of all ages.
What is a concussion?
A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that can occur in both contact and non-contact sports. It can be a bump, jolt or blow to either the head or body that causes the brain to move quickly back and forth and/or twist within the skull. According to the Positive Coaching Alliance, a non-profit that advocates on behalf of youth athletes, approximately 65-80 percent of initial concussions go unrecognized. Moreover, athletes who have incurred one concussion are at an increased risk to sustain another and to experience “second impact syndrome,” a condition the CDC describes as subsequent concussions before the brain fully recovers from the first trauma. This is where the most severe, long-term damage can occur in an athlete.
What are concussion symptoms?
Coaches and parents have primary responsibility to push education around safety and concussion prevention. For coaches, concussion education must start on the first day of practice and continue through each season. For parents, it starts right when a child expresses an interest in sports and recreational activities, long before the first day of practice ever comes around. For all parties involved—athletes, coaches and parents—recalling concussion symptoms must be second nature so subtle symptoms get immediate medical attention.
Knowing when to pull an injured athlete is the first step in concussion safety and protecting an athlete’s future. Concussions have been deemed the “invisible injury,” and as such, the decision between telling your athlete to “tough it out” or pulling him out of the game or practice can be challenging. This is why parents and coaches need to know when an athlete is presenting concussion symptoms. According to the CDC, these are the most common symptoms present when an athlete has a concussion:
- Appears dazed or stunned
- Is confused about an assignment or position
- Forgets an instruction
- Is unsure of the game, score or opponent
- Moves clumsily
- Answers questions slowly
- Loses consciousness (even briefly)
- Shows mood, behavior or personality changes
- Can’t recall events prior to a hit or fall
- Can’t recall events after a hit or fall
More severe symptoms may be present when an athlete:
- Has one pupil larger than the other
- Is drowsy or cannot be awakened
- Has a headache that gets worse
- Has weakness, numbness or decreased coordination
- Exhibits repeated vomiting or nausea
- Slurs his speech
- Has convulsions or seizures
- Cannot recognize people or places
- Becomes increasingly confused, restless or agitated
- Presents unusual behavior
- Loses consciousness (even a brief loss of consciousness should be taken seriously)
Based on a foundation of competition and physical perseverance, it’s hard to withstand the “win at all costs” pressure that has come to exist in athletics. CoachUp football coach and former New England Patriots offensive tackle Max Lane recognizes that pressure but also understands the life-long impact this injury can have on an athlete. “Everybody wants to win. Coaches have to let the players know at the beginning of the season that the coach is fostering an atmosphere of safety first, even when that means safety over winning,” Lane says. “The coach has to communicate to the players that it’s okay for them to speak up if they’ve been hit in the head.”
Coaches, trainers and parents need to create an environment where athletes feel empowered to speak up when something is wrong. And that empowerment should begin at the youth level, where proper technique and good, clean, legal play are consistently enforced and, above all, applauded.
While parents may not be teaching their athletes the finer details of strategy and technique, they can reinforce a safe sports environment by not promoting or encouraging moves that might compromise an athlete’s safety. Parents can also remind athletes of concussion symptoms to be on the lookout for throughout the season in order to keep the injury front of mind.
Take concussion safety with you with the CDC’s new Heads Up concussion app. Click here to learn more.
This article appears courtesy of CoachUp, an online service that connects athletes with private coaches.