Stop the Invisible Injury–Parents and Coaches Share the Responsibility, Part 1

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

This is part 1 of a 2-part series. In part 2, we’ll discuss the importance of fostering an environment where athletes can safely speak up if they believe something is wrong.

Written by the experts at CoachUp. Visit them at

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