Concussion symptoms and prevention tips

Suffering from a concussion can occur in any sport, and at all levels of play, from little league to the major leagues.  In fact, the US Center for Disease Control estimates 1.6 million to 3.8 million concussions occur in sports and recreational activities each year.  Early education and a shift in the “tough it out” mentality is needed in order to reduce the frequency of concussions in young athletes, as well as, reduce the number of concussions that go undiagnosed.  Parents and coaches have to raise the bar and set the standard that the athlete’s health is first priority.

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that can occur in both contact and non-contact sports. A concussion is a bump, jolt or blow to either the head or body that causes the brain to move quickly back and forth, and or twist within the skull.  According to the Positive Coaching Alliance, approximately 65-80% of initial concussions go unrecognized.  Moreover, athletes that have incurred one concussion are at an increased risk to sustain another, and to experience “second impact syndrome.”  The CDC defines “second impact syndrome” as subsequent concussions before the brain fully recovers from the first trauma.  This is where the most severe, long term damage can occur in an athlete.

Coaches and parents have primary responsibility to push education around safety and concussion prevention. For coaches, concussion education must start on the first day of practice and continue through each season.  For parents,  it starts right when a child expresses interest in sports, and recreational activities, long before the first day of practice ever comes around.  For all parties involved, athletes, coaches and parents, recalling concussion symptoms must be second nature so subtle symptoms get immediate medical attention.

Knowing when to pull an injured athlete is the first step in concussion safety and protecting an athlete’s future.   Concussions have been deemed the “invisible injury” and as such the decision between telling your athlete to “tough it out” or pull your athlete out of the game or practice can be challenging.  This is why parents and coaches need to be aware of and know when concussion symptoms are being presented by an athlete.  

These symptoms present when an athlete:

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

More severe symptoms may be present when an athlete:

  • Has one pupil larger than the other
  • Is drowsy or cannot be awakened
  • Has headache that gets worse
  • Has weakness, numbness, or decreased coordination
  • Exhibits repeated vomiting or nausea
  • Slurs his speech
  • Has convulsions or seizures
  • Cannot recognize people or places
  • Becomes increasingly confused, restless, or agitated
  • Presents unusual behavior
  • Loses consciousness (even a brief loss of consciousness should be taken seriously)

*Symptoms are from the CDC concussion checklist

Based on a foundation of competition and physical perseverance, it’s hard to withstand the “win at all costs” pressure that has come to exist in athletics.  CoachUp football coach and former Patriots offensive tackle, Max Lane, recognizes that pressure but also understands the life-long impact this injury can have on an athlete.  “Everybody wants to win.  Coaches have to let the players know that at the beginning of the season that the coach is fostering an atmosphere of safety first, even when that means safety over winning.  The coach has to communicate to the players that it’s okay for them to speak up if they’ve been hit in the head.”  

Coaches, trainers and parents must come together to create an environment where athletes feel empowered to speak up when something is wrong.  Those changes must begin at the youth level where proper technique and good, clean, legal play are consistently enforced and, above all, applauded. 

While parents may not be teaching their athletes the finer details of strategy and technique, parents can reinforce a safe sports environment by not promoting or encouraging moves that might comprise an athlete’s safety.  Parents can also remind athletes of concussion symptoms to be on the lookout for, throughout the season in order to keep the injury front of mind.

CoachUp Top 5 Concussion Prevention Tips for Parents and Coaches

  1. Educate yourself.  Learn the symptoms of concussions and traumatic brain injuries.  Review the CDC’s fact sheet for parents and take the CDC’s free online course.  Be familiar with the CDC’s guide for coaches.(, and
  2. Educate your children. Review the CDC’s fact sheet for athletes with your child and quiz your child on the symptoms on an ongoing basis.  (
  3. Encourage open communication and ask questions. Introduce yourself to your child’s coach in a friendly and open manner so that the coach will always feel comfortable coming to you with any concerns regarding your child.  Then ask your child’s coach how he or she will be conducting concussion education over the course of your child’s season.  Continue to maintain regular contact with the coach over the season and encourage your child to talk to his coach on a regular basis, so he or she develops a comfortable and open relationship with their coach.  An honest relationship with their coach and knowing you are communicating with their coach regularly will encourage your child to air concerns more openly should they sustain a concussion or injury in play.
  4. Know who the medical professional is. Identify whom the trainer or medical professional is at your child’s sports organization or school, and find out if they will be attending games.  You should alway know who is in charge of medical care or who to speak with should your child ever get hurt.  Make sure your child’s medical information is always on file and up to date with their sports organization and school. 
  5. Celebrate safe and legal play. During, and after competitions, make an extra effort to celebrate when your child makes a play that is completed with good form and technique.  If you see your child making plays that are overly violent, talk to your child about it immediately after the game.  If your child says that was how he was taught to play, consider following up with your child’s coach to review how you can help reinforce safe play with your child, which, will help reinforce coach that you want your child being coached safely.

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