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Dealing with Concussions: A Guide for Coaches and Parents

This wasn’t exactly my original plan for article #2 in my coaching series, but with Colin Kaepernick leading the 49ers to the Superbowl in Alex Smith’s place, I’m reminded that we all need to talk about concussions—in fact, I don’t think we can really talk about concussion safety enough.

For any of you who don’t follow football, Alex Smith began this season as the 49ers starting quarterback, and was doing pretty darn well before suffering a concussion mid-season. He wasn’t out of commission for long, but Colin Kaepernick did so well in his place that Smith lost his job, for no reason other than that he got hurt. I could rant on and on about concussions in professional football and how having to worry about losing your job if you have one is not a good situation…but we’ll keep this about coaching and parenting young athletes.

The Dangers of Concussions

You probably already know that concussions are bad news. Multiple concussions are are even worse news, and once you’ve had one you’re more susceptible to others. There are a number of studies looking at the lives of retired NFL players and other athletes (check out this article for an example) who are suffering from memory loss and other cognitive impairments as a result of sustaining multiple concussions in their younger years. Multiple past concussions have been suspected to play a role in some recent retired athlete suicides, like that of baseball player Ryan Freel. While it may be difficult, or even nearly impossible, to scientifically draw a definitive connection there, as the parent of an athlete you have to believe that multiple concussions are a scary business, and that every measure should be taken to prevent them and to handle them properly if they occur.

Concussion Protocols for Parents and Coaches

Fortunately, many high school programs are taking positive action toward concussion safety. Some are implementing baseline concussion testing for athletes and putting all coaches through a concussion safety seminar prior to their seasons.

Baseline concussion testing involves putting athletes through a series of simple tests on a computer to come up with a preliminary “score” that indicates that athlete’s normal cognitive function when not affected by a concussion. If it’s suspected that the athlete has sustained a concussion, he/she can retake the test and compare scores to determine whether or not he/she has a concussion and how severe it is.

However, some schools only enforce baseline concussion testing for athletes participating in “high-impact” sports: football, wrestling, boy’s lacrosse, and hockey (possibly others; it varies from school to school). Softball is not typically considered “high-impact.” As a parent or a coach, it would be a good idea to find out about your school’s concussion testing policies and petition that all athletes be included if necessary. If concussion testing is unavailable through the school, it would be a good idea to look into outside options.

If an athlete sustains some kind of impact to the head and you’re not sure whether a concussion is a possibility, DO NOT take the chance. Missing part of a game as a precaution never hurt anyone, whereas continuing to play with a concussion could have serious consequences.

Recovering From a Concussion

I learned a lot about concussion recovery in the pre-season concussion seminar at the high school where I coached. It’s pretty much a no-brainer that you’d want your young athlete to stay away from physical activity until cleared by a doctor. But did you know that even thinking too hard can slow down recovery, or worsen the concussion?

Depending on the severity of the concussion, the athlete may also need time out of school. If that’s the case, watch out for other common activities that can exacerbate concussion symptoms: watching television, reading, excessive use of a computer or mobile device, etc. Recovering from a concussion isn’t exactly a fun-filled experience, but it’s very important to take the necessary rest. Recovery time varies from person to person, and lengthens with each additional concussion. Unfortunately, there’s really no such thing as “too long,” so don’t push yourself even if it takes several weeks—in some cases, months—to feel 100% better.

In short, you CANNOT be too careful when dealing with concussions. Few common injuries have as much potential for long-term negative effects. Coaches, take this to heart. Parents, pass this knowledge along to every coach who has access to your child. Her well-being is worth it.

To read the first article in my coaching series, click here.

About the author

Carly

Carly is a windmill pitching specialist and co-founder of Fastpitch Power. She has coached teams at every level from 10U to NCAA. She also designed and built fastpitchpower.com. Please feel free to leave questions and site feedback in the comments or via our contact page!

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