Coaches: The First Line of Defense

Coaches: The First Line of Defense

The first line of defense in preventing, recognizing, and then treating any youth athlete’s head injury or concussion are your child's coaches. Coaches often push the limits of speed, strength, and endurance in an attempt to get young athletes into their best physical condition. However, it is important for coaches to recognize the signs of a concussion and to immediately remove a player from the field to avoid any long-term health problems.

What are the signs of an athlete with a concussion?

Athletes of all ages who experience a concussion on the field or court may:

  • Appear dazed, stunned or confused
  • Easily confused about what they are supposed to be doing on the field/court
  • Forget plays and drills
  • Look unsure of game, score or opponent
  • Move clumsily (appear off-balance or dizzy)
  • Be slow to answer questions
  • Lose consciousness (not very common and only happen in approx 10 to 15 percent of concussions)
  • Experience behavior or personality changes
  • Be unable to remember events prior to or after the injury

Action Plan

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in partnership with leading experts, developed the Heads Up 4-step Action Plan for players suspected of having a concussion.

  • Remove the participant from play and keep him or her out the remainder of the day. When in doubt, sit them out!
  • Ensure that the participant is evaluated by an appropriate healthcare professional. Do not try to judge the severity of the injury yourself.
  • Inform the participant’s parents or guardians about the possible concussion and give them information about concussions, available on the CDC web site. Make sure they know that the athlete should be seen by a healthcare professional experienced in evaluating concussions.
  • Keep the participant out of play until an appropriate healthcare professional says the participant is symptom-free and gives the OK to return to play.

If a player with a suspected concussion should be observed continuously until evaluated by a healthcare professional. Never send a player with a suspected concussion to the bus or to the locker room alone.

As a coach, be sure to record the following information that can help a health care provider in assessing the athlete after the injury:

  • Cause of the injury and force of the hit or blow to the head or body
  • Any loss of consciousness (passed out/knocked out) and if so, for how long
  • Any memory loss right after the injury
  • Any seizures right after the injury
  • Number of previous concussions (if any)

It is also important to recognize when the situation should be escalated to seek emergent medical care. Coaches should call 911:

  • Any time a player has a loss of consciousness for any duration. While loss of consciousness is not required for a concussion to occur, it may indicate a more serious brain injury.
  • If a player exhibits any of the following:
  • Decreased level of consciousness
  • Drowsiness or cannot be awakened
  • Irregular breathing
  • Severe or worsening headaches
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Seizures

Be sure to obtain written clearance from the athlete’s medical professional before returning him/her back into play.

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