Concussion awareness is paramount in youth sports, and not just those that involve collisions.
Cliff Robbins, the program manager of education and research at the Sports Legacy Institute in Boston, says baseball and softball are “relatively concussion-safe sports,” since head trauma is not a regular part of the game, like tackling in football or heading the ball in soccer.
But concussions can still occur — think a pitch to the head, a collision in the outfield or a hard slide into second — and all youth sports teams need to be prepared for how to prevent, treat and manage brain injuries.
Robbins has four suggestions to help teams be more prepared:
The first, most significant step is to make sure that the adults in charge — parents, coaches, officials — are properly educated about concussions and what to do when one occurs.
“The best thing a league can do is educate coaches, athletes and parents to recognize the signs and symptoms of a concussion,” Robbins said. “Since we can’t rely on a brain-injured individual to make the best decisions, we need to empower the rest of the community to stand up for injured players and intervene when appropriate.”
Consider Baseline Testing
Leagues and teams can put players through preseason baseline testing. That is a process in which each player is tested on brain functions (kind of like an IQ test) when healthy. Then, if that player is suspected of having a brain injury, he or she can take the test again. The results will show if the brain activity matches the baseline results from when the player was healthy.
“Baseline testing is a helpful tool to give doctors a better sense of when an injury has occurred, but it is by no means a silver bullet,” Robbins said. “It is a tool in the clinician’s toolbox that can be very helpful when taken as one piece of the larger picture.”
Have a Plan
If and when a concussion occurs, it’s important to recognize the symptoms and take the proper steps to protect the athlete and ensure he or she is treated appropriately.
“All leagues should have a plan ahead of time as to how to handle injuries if and when they occur,” Robbins said. “If a concussion has occurred, the player should be removed from play and evaluated by a medical professional. Questions of treatment and recovery should be addressed in tandem with the doctor, athlete and parents. A plan for returning to activity should be laid out.”
Be on the Safe Side
If there is no doctor available on site to determine if a player has suffered a concussion, it is best to immediately remove the athlete from play until he or she can be assessed. The possible damage that can occur from sustaining a second brain injury before the first one is healed, even if it is considered “mild,” can be devastating or even fatal.
“The key is that recovery is a complex process that must include a doctor, and it cannot be rushed,” Robbins noted. “(Returning an athlete to play before they are ready) puts them in harm’s way and increases the risk of prolonged symptoms and potentially catastrophic re-injury.”
A comprehensive list with 10 categories of sub-lists, designed to cover all aspects of a concussion, from prevention to return-to-play and return-to-life guidelines.
Includes signs and symptoms of a head injury, as well as an action plan for after a concussion.