A concussion may be caused by a blow, bump or jolt to the head, or by any fall or hit that jars the brain. This invisible injury disrupts the way the brain works by decreasing mental stamina, as the brain must work longer and harder even to complete simple tasks. Concussions may involve loss of consciousness, but the majority do not. All concussions are serious because they involve an injury to the brain.
Concussions can occur in any sport, but the potential for a concussion is greatest in athletic environments where collisions are common, such as soccer, football and hockey. It is important to remember that 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.
Remember: Sit them out when in doubt.
Recognizing a possible concussion
Recognition and proper management of concussions as soon as they occur can help prevent further injury or even death. To help recognize a concussion, coaches should watch for a forceful blow to the head or body that results in rapid movement of the head and/or any change in the athlete’s behavior, thinking or physical functioning.
These changes can last from several minutes to days, weeks or even longer in some cases. Common concussion symptoms are:
- fatigue or low energy
- sleep disturbances
- vision changes-double or blurred
- tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- dizziness or balance problems
- slowed thinking or confusion
- slowed reaction times
- impaired judgment or attention
- easily distracted
- impaired learning and memory
- problem solving difficulties
- personality changes
If a concussion is suspected
Do not try to judge the severity of the injury yourself. Beaumont Concussion Clinic health care providers have a number of assessment skills and tools to evaluate the severity of concussions.
As a coach, please record the following information and share it with the athlete’s parents or caregivers. This information will be needed by the health care provider to assess the athlete after the injury:
- cause of the injury and force of the hit or blow to the head (tackle, hit by ball)
- 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)
An athlete with suspected concussion should be evaluated by a health care provider at the Beaumont Concussion Clinic within 72 hours. The health care provider will determine when it is safe for the concussed athlete to return to play.
Prevention and preparation
As a coach, you play a key role in preventing concussions. Here are some steps you can take to ensure the best outcome for your athletes and the team:
- Educate athletes and parents about concussion by making them aware of the dangers and potential long-term consequences of concussion. Explain your concerns about concussion and your expectations for safe play to the athletes, parents and assistant coaches.
- Insist that safety comes first, teach athletes safe playing techniques and encourage them to follow the rules of play. Make sure athletes wear the right protective gear for the sport (helmet, padding, shin guards, eye and mouth guards, etc.). Make sure protective equipment fits properly, is well maintained and is worn consistently and correctly.
- Keep track of each athlete’s concussion and injury history.
- Never allow an athlete to “play through” a suspected concussion injury. Sometimes athletes 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 are “just fine” after they have sustained any bump or blow to the head.
A repeat concussion that occurs before the brain recovers from the first concussion can cause second impact syndrome and can slow recovery or increase the likelihood of long-term problems. In rare cases, repeat concussions can result in brain swelling, permanent brain damage, and even death. Keep athletes with known or suspected concussion from play until they have been evaluated and given permission to return to play by a healthcare provider. Remind your athletes: It is better to miss one game than the whole season.