Coaches and Concussion

  • March 14, 2016


Some thoughts from the Coaches Association of Canada

From a tackle to a trip, concussions can occur in any sport and sustained in a variety of different ways. Fortunately, with research and education coaches have more tools than ever before to address this critical issue in sport.  We know the important role you play as a coach, dealing with the safety and well-being of your athletes every day.

Important roles a coach can play when it comes to concussion in sport:

Education:  Concussion in sport is a complex issue, but there are key facts that everyone involved in sport should be knowledgeable of including the athletes, parents, and coaching staff.  Pre-season meetings that outline and inform individuals about concussions and how they will be addressed if they occur should be planned. The player code of conduct can also be used to confirm each athlete understands the issue.

Recognition:  Coaches are at every training session and competition and are often the individuals that will need to first recognize that an athlete has a concussion. There are several visible clues, signs, symptoms and/or errors in memory questions that can present. Coaches should know these and/or utilize a concussion recognition tool.

Management: Return to Learn and Return to Play guidelines exist for athletes that have suffered a concussion. Return to sport and activity should only occur after an athlete has completed the 6-step approach.  Coaches must often monitor and ensure athletes progress through the steps appropriately.

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Coach Responses

Have you dealt with a concussion(s) with your athlete(s)?

What have you done to educate, recognize and manage concussions as a coach? 

Share your tips and best practices!

Coach Brenda E. Robson – Equestrian – Lowbanks – 24 Years

“…As an equestrian coach I am using the information from the Making Head Way eLearning course as part of my daily activity, especially educating parents and riders. One incident at a local fair horse show, when a rider fell and left the scene with friends, only to finally seek assistance from EMS made the need for the 6-steps a top priority for the board of directors and show crew members. I am planning an educational evening within my circle of influence at the fair to better handle suspected cases of concussion and follow up procedures. I am so glad to have taken the mandatory* course!”

*Mandatory for Ontario Equestrian Federation Certified Coaches

Coach Isabelle W. – Ice Hockey – Ottawa – 10 years

“…As a coach of a high risk sport for concussion, it still surprises me how often the Return to Play guidelines are met with resistance from parents and players when a concussion is suspected. The issue is addressed in the pre-season meeting, but when a concussion happens it very often becomes a re-education process with that particular player/parent. Some strategies I use when players/parents are trying to push to return to play early include: resending the RTP protocol to the parent/player along with individualized steps that incorporates our upcoming schedule (games they will not be allowed to dress/play in, practice intensity, etc.); always communicating in tandem with my Head Trainer so no one feels it is a unilateral decision; and finally I use the support of other teams/coaches in my association to get additional practice sessions to help progress players through the steps when appropriate. Every time I have to sit a player due to a concussion it is tough, but keeping the bigger picture in mind (my athlete’s long term health) always helps strengthen my resolve.”

Coach Joe Benedetti – Softball – Hamilton

“My policy is very simple – “When in doubt, sit them out”

Whenever there is even a possible injury to the head, neck, or back – we must err on the side of caution. I have read too many stories where athletes have returned to play and sadly it has effected their career in the short and long term. Surely, after Sidney Crosby sat out for 14 months, we have all learned the lesson. He suffered a concussion and played another game a few days later.”

Coach Ann Phillips – Volleyball – Barrie – 2 Years

“…As a coach, I printed the concussion guidelines and included them in my first aid kit. I reviewed them with my Assistant Coaches. I also ensure that I have the full address of every location where we are playing. When one of my players experienced a concussion last year, I was able to quickly give EMS the exact school address.

While the 6 step approach is a very helpful tool, I would also add that it is critical that athlete’s seek the appropriate level of care based on the symptoms they are exhibiting. If there are lingering symptoms or post-concussion symptoms, athletes should seek out specialized concussion clinics. These clinics have Sports Med doctors that specialize in concussions and a team based approach with therapists that will help the player fully recover. Letting an athlete return to sport prematurely is the worst thing that you can as a coach. When my eldest suffered her 3rd concussion and my son his 4th, they took almost 5 months to be fully medically cleared. Don’t be afraid as a coach to recommend these types of clinics to your parents and speak up about concussions and their impact! Athletes that have had previous concussion history are significantly more likely to sustain more and have more lasting effects, especially when they are in a vulnerable recovery stage. Share your knowledge with your athletes, your assistants, your clubs and your parents and understand that there is no set recovery time – each athlete is different!”

Coach Jesse – Parasport – Toronto – 1 Year

“Knowing what I know now, as a former athlete suffering with daily symptoms of Long-Term Post-Concussion Syndrome, my best piece of advice is to remember what is at stake.

We can no longer have a “shake it off” culture, even when a championship or big win is on the line. A young athlete who can only think about getting back in the game cannot be expected to make the best decision for themselves in the moment. YOU are the adult and it is your duty to do what you can to protect them from harm.  If you even suspect one of your athletes has sustained a concussion, follow the Return to Play guidelines – your athlete will thank you for it down the road.”

CAO dedicates this issue of Coach2Coach in Support of Rowan’s Law

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