Preventing, Detecting and Responding to Concussions in Youth Sports

Concussions in Youth

Youth sports are a place where we encourage young people to push themselves. And that can mean taking minor injuries or concussions too lightly. The more we learn about concussions in youth sports, the more we recognize that they can have long-term affects like memory loss or personality changes. Youth athletes are at a heightened risk and may require more time to recover compared to an adult. The risks only multiply if children are subjected to multiple concussions over time.

For this reason, it’s important to create an organizational culture that takes concussions seriously. The information below can be used as a guide for prevention, detection, and response, and help to change the way sport-related concussions impact youth in our community.

Even when youth are following the rules and wearing the proper protective gear–an injury-free game is not guaranteed. This is why we rely on Return to Play laws. They were first developed in 2009 after a 13 year old football player received a concussion, but was allowed to return to play 15 minutes later. This resulted in a traumatic brain injury that left him in a coma for nine months. Since this incident, all 50 states have adopted some form of Return to Play law.

State laws vary in detail, with the types of organizations and activities that are covered, and the requirements you must meet in order to be in compliance. Regardless of what state you’re in, most Return to Play laws require:

  1. Training and education for coaches on recognizing concussion symptoms and responding appropriately
  2. Education for parents and athletes
  3. Protocol for removing an athlete suspected of head injury from play
  4. Medical clearance by a trained healthcare professional in order to return to play

The CDC provides an online training at no cost—HEADS UP to Youth Sports—that focuses on concussion awareness, recognition and prevention.

Note: It’s important to be aware that concussion statutes generally apply to all youth sports, not just those that are perceived as high risk, such as tackle football and ice hockey. The statutes even apply to “non-contact” sports such as swimming and gymnastics.

Making sure that coaches, parents and the youth themselves know what signs to look for, and feel empowered to report symptoms, is one of the most important steps you can take to make sure concussions are properly detected. Because it could take hours and even days for signs to surface, the following symptoms should be closely monitored for at least a week following an injury:

Observed Symptoms

  • Can’t recall events prior to or after a hit or fall
  • Appears dazed or stunned, answers questions slowly
  • Forgets an instruction, is confused about an assignment or position, or is unsure of the game, score, or opponent
  • Moves clumsily
  • Loses consciousness (even briefly)
  • Shows mood, behavior, or personality changes

Reported Symptoms

  • Headache or “pressure” in head, can be persistent or severe
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Poor balance or dizziness, or double or blurry vision
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Feeling sluggish, hazy, foggy, or groggy, sleepy
  • Confusion, concentration or memory problems
  • Irritability, mild depression, ringing in the ears
  • Just not “feeling right,” or “feeling down”

Appropriate Response
A concussion, or the damage caused by a concussion, is not something that should be diagnosed by anyone other than a healthcare professional. When in doubt, sit players out for the remainder of the day, or at least until they have been cleared by a specialist. Although there isn’t much that anyone except a medical professional can do to help the injured player, you can help the diagnosis process by reporting the following to a medical professional:

  1. A description of the how the injury was inflicted, and where the physical impact occurred
  2. Any loss of consciousness and length of time the player was unconscious
  3. Any memory loss, confusion or seizures right after the injury

Back in the Swing of Things
When you have a player who has had a diagnosed concussion–and has been evaluated and cleared by a medical professional–returning to play can be scary for everyone. Be sure to monitor things like changes in attention, processing speed and reaction time. But gradual reintegration is possible, and we recommend taking the following steps:

  1. First, allow the player to engage in light, non-physical activities like reading or board games. Not only will this minimize the risk of further exacerbation of the injury, but it will give you the opportunity to monitor their behavior and cognitive ability.
  2. Then, allow the player to engage in moderately physical activities that involve very minimal physical contact.
  3. Once you see that the child can handle physical activity, without becoming weak, dizzy, or otherwise affected, you can allow him or her to return to playing contact/competitive sports.

Concussions in Adults

What about employees? While youth may get injured and suffer from a concussion, employees can too. Coaches, timekeepers, referees and volunteers may also injure themselves. This injury can cause a concussion.

If you notice the following signs in an employee after being injured, it may be the cause of a concussion:

  • Confusion or feeling dazed
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Concentration difficulty
  • Headache that gets worse and does not go away
  • Slurred speech

If you notice any of these symptoms in your employees, encourage them to seek medical attention.

Concussion Myths

Concussions are not always what we think they are, and they affect us all differently. Here are common misconceptions about concussions and the facts that disprove them:

Myth: A concussion can only result from a direct blow to the head.
Fact: A concussion can be caused by a direct blow to the head, or a blow to the face, neck, or any where else in the body that transmits the impact to the head.

Myth: Only players who participate in more aggressive contact sports like football suffer from concussions.
Fact: While football has the highest number of concussions, all sports have the potential to put children at risk for concussions.

Myth: Proper use of helmets will guarantee concussion-prevention.
Fact: The results are conflicting, and although helmets do help to prevent concussions, impact to the brain is still possible and should not be discounted.