Concussions are a part of youth sports at every level from elementary school years to college. Playing at the local playground, riding bikes or just being a kid can put a child at risk for a concussion. If every parent and coach were trained and prepared to respond to concussions, there would definitely be a drop in multiple impact concussions which seem to be the majority of the serious cases at the clinic where I work. It only takes one adult to stepped forward and pulled the child from the field at the first signs of trouble, and give a quick sideline assessment. Avoiding additional blows can make all the difference in a child’s recovery.
But I used the word “adult” not “coach”… yes, I meant adult.
Coaches need help with concussion recognition if we are going to try to identify kids sooner who have been concussed. Any adult, any parent can being prepared with some simple steps:
1. Educate yourself on the signs and symptoms of a concussion along with the other members of your family so that an educated adult is always available during a practice or a game or by phone for your child to call. Always check in with your child on the car ride home from any sporting activity or play date, and ask their day, and how they are feeling. If your child complains that he/she hit their head, you should know the correct questions to ask to see if there could be an issue with a head injury. With the 20 minute CDC course and PAR CRR App ($3.99) on your phone, you can be ahead of most youth coaches and truly make a difference when a child is injured in a practice or a game.
2. Educate your child about concussions. There are simple, painless videos for the media savvy teenager of today. Studies show that kids are more likely to report concussions when they know what a concussion is. Teach your child to report to an adult if they notice signs of a teammate with a possible head injury. The earlier the diagnosis, the sooner a child can begin the rest needed to heal a concussion.
3. Check your child’s sports equipment at the beginning, middle and end of each season. While there is no sport equipment, including helmets, that can prevent concussions, ill fitting or worn equipment can make many injuries worse. After a hard hit, recheck all equipment for damage again. Bike helmets need to replaced after every fall, while other sports helmets are more durable.
4. Make sure all your child’s coaches and camp counselors have concussion awareness training. If they don’t, politely email them a link to a training video and ask them to let you know what they thought of it after they view it.
5. Make sure your coach has your cell number with him/her at the field if you are dropping off your child for sports. If you aren’t available, substitute another adult’s cell phone number and have the proper paperwork so that adult can make medical decisions for your child. While it is rare, never leave a coach alone in a 911 situation to make medical decisions for your child.
6. Attend as many games as you can and watch your child play for the sheer love of the sport. But also be aware if your child is hurt in a game, you have the right to see your child no matter what the policy of the team. Coaches cannot see every player in every moment of a game and coaches are not doctors. Parents must be responsible for their children’s well-being and that includes deciding when a child should be pulled from a game. You are the final authority over your child and be prepared to make that call if you do not agree with a coach who wants your child to play when you have concerns about a possible injury. So many parents have shared with me that they wanted to pull their injured child from a game, but instead deferred to the coach and their child was hit again and only then too late was pulled from a game. Multiple blows tend to complicate and length recovery time for a concussion. As the CDC motto says, “When in doubt, sit it out. Better to lose a game than the whole season!”
7. If you suspect your child may have a concussion, know when to call 911, when to drive to the ER, and when to just call your child’s regular doctor. The ER is not always the best place for a concussion, but there are certain signs that 911 call is absolutely the only response. Do you know the difference?
8. If your child has a concussion, follow your doctor’s instructions. If you don’t understand or your child will not comply, call the doctor back and ask for another way to deal with the issue at hand. You can read how best to care for your child after a concussion. Your pediatrician can refer your child to local concussion specialists after your doctor has diagnosed the concussion.
9. Enjoy sports. Have your child play a variety of organized (a mix of competitive and club) sports year around as sports promote fitness and strong bodies. One 2004 study showed that only 20% of all youth concussions occur in organized sports. It is my personal experience that unsupervised children who are bored and looking for something fun to do, can end up in trouble faster than a child on a field with adults playing a game with rules and a referee.
10. And make your child wear a bike helmet! The greatest concussion risk for your child happens when he or she is riding a bike according to this CDC study. While a helmet cannot prevent a concussion, biking without a helmet can make any accident worse. Many parents say they would never let their children play football, yet these same parents let their children ride their bikes without helmets.
Katherine “Price” Snedaker
Katherine is the founder of Sports which provides free resources, educational program and speakers for recreational sports teams, town leagues and private schools to build concussion awareness into their programs for players, coaches and parents. She designed her website and program around her concern with middle school aged athletes who are not covered by CT Concussion Law since they play in private or town leagues rather than in public middle schools where they would be protect the law. She has been work with CT and NY lacrosse leagues for several years and hopes to bring concussion awareness to teams from other sports across the state. Katherine is also the founder of Team Concussion, a social media/web based support group for teenagers with concussions.
Katherine has her Masters in Social Work and has worked as a school social worker. In addition to being a lifelong athlete, she has over ten years experience coaching boys lacrosse and co-ed soccer with children aged 5 to 15. She has vast experience with concussions as an athlete, a professional, a coach,CONNy league advisor and a parent of three active sons. One of her sons has suffered through a number of concussions, mostly from non-sport activities.
To help with research, Katherine has agreed to donate her brain to the study of CTE after she dies and encourages all adult athletes with concussion histories to consider this option (click here for more info).