Heads Up: What you and your athletes need to know about concussion
Materials suggested below can be found at the CDC's Heads Up: Concussion in Youth Sports.
Prevention and Preparation
As a coach, you can play a key role in preventing concussions and responding properly when they occur. Here are some steps you can take throughout the school year to help prevent concussion and ensure the best outcome for your athletes, the team, and the school.
Check with your school, district or organization about concussion policies
Concussion policy statements can be developed to include the school's commitment to safety, a brief description of concussion, and information on when athletes can safely return to play (i.e., an athlete should be kept out of play the day of the injury and until a health care professional, experienced in evaluating for concussion, says the student is symptom-free and it's OK to return to play).
Parents and athletes should sign the concussion policy statement at the beginning of each sports season. Involve and get support from other school officials—such as principals, certified athletic trainers, other coaches, school nurses, and parent-teacher associations—to help ensure that school rules and concussion policies are in place before the first practice.
Identify a health care professional to respond to injuries during practice or competition.
Fill out the “Heads Up” pocket card or clipboard sticker and keep it with you so that information about signs, symptoms, and emergency contacts is readily available.
Be sure that other appropriate athletic and school staff and health care professionals know about the plan and have been trained to use it.
Review the signs and symptoms of concussion
Keep the four-step action plan with you at games and practices. Educate athletes, parents and other coaches about concussion. Youth and high school coaches play a critical role by educating their athletes about concussion and emphasizing the importance of reporting any concussion symptoms. Before the first practice, talk to athletes, parents, and other coaches and school officials about the dangers of concussion and potential long-term consequences of concussion. Explain your concerns about concussion and your expectations of safe play.
Go to HEADS UP to School Sports: Coaches and pass out the fact sheets and information provided. The CDC Parent & Athlete Concussion.pdf is for athletes and parents to discuss at the beginning of the season and again if a concussion occurs.
Remind athletes to tell the coaching staff right away if they suspect that they have a concussion or that a teammate has a concussion.
Monitor the health of your athletes Make sure to ask if an athlete has ever had a concussion and insist that your athletes be medically evaluated and in good condition to participate. Some schools conduct preseason baseline testing (also known as neurocognitive tests) to assess brain function—learning and memory skills, ability to pay attention or concentrate, and how quickly someone can think and solve problems. These tests can be used again during the season if an athlete has a concussion to help identify the effects of the injury. Prior to the first practice, determine whether your school would consider conducting baseline testing.
During the Season: Practices and Games
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 and make sure they 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.
CONCUSSIONS Will Happen
Prevent long-term problems.
If one of your athletes has a concussion, her/his brain needs time to heal. Don't let the student return to play the day of the injury or until a healthcare professional, experienced in evaluating for concussion, says s/he is symptom-free and it's OK to return to play. A repeat concussion that occurs before the brain recovers from the first—usually within a short time period (hours, days, weeks)—Second Impact Syndrome - can increase the chances for long-term problems or death.
Teach your athletes it's not smart to play with a concussion.
Rest is key after a concussion. Sometimes athletes, parents, and other school officials wrongly believe that it shows strength and courage to play injured. Discourage others from pressuring injured athletes to play. Some athletes may also try to hide their symptoms. Don't let your athlete convince you that s/he is “just fine” or that s/he can “tough it out.” Emphasize to athletes and parents that playing with a concussion is dangerous, even deadly.
Work closely with other school officials.
Be sure that appropriate staff is available for injury assessment and referrals for further medical care. Enlist school nurses and teachers to monitor any changes in the athlete's behavior or school work that could indicate that the student has a concussion. Ask them to report concussions that occurred during the school year. This will help in monitoring injured athletes who participate in multiple sports throughout the school year. Also, a concussion must be reported to coaches in other sports the athlete is in and physical education teachers.
Communicating Effectively about Concussions
It's important to raise awareness about concussion throughout the school community and to educate athletes, parents, and others about how to prevent, recognize, and respond to concussions. Enlist the help of other school staff, including school nurses, and pass out the “Heads Up” Fact Sheet.