Concussion safety is a clear priority for many contact sports like football, rugby, and hockey but it should also be a priority for many of the summer sports we love like wakeboarding, surfing, skateboarding or mountain biking. Athletes love summer because there’s no school, great weather and plenty of time to be active.
A pinnacle of summer sports is the X Games, an annual 3-day multi-sport event which features some of the top competitors in the world. The X Games has received notoriety since its beginning in ’95 thanks to the top-tier athletes and their unruly tricks, but the games aren’t without mishaps.
A study of US ER visits from 2000-2011 reported an increase in the number of reported of concussions in extreme sports. This study followed 7 extreme sports: Snowboarding, snowmobiling, snow skiing, surfing, motocross, skateboarding and mountain biking. While snow sports took the top two spots, 20% of all reported concussions came from skateboarding and roughly 15% from motocross.”
Summer is the perfect time to make sure athletes, parents, and coaches are taking proactive steps toward concussion prevention. Here are some safety tips for your summer.
Know the Signs of a Concussion and STOP
No sport is worth more than a healthy brain. If you suspect a concussion, pull the athlete from the game. Learn the danger signs that warrant an ER visit:
- One pupil larger than the other
- Any loss of consciousness
- Continual nausea and/or vomiting
- Excessive drowsiness or can’t be awakened
- Confusion or agitation
- Worsening head pain or a headache
- Seizures or convulsions
- Slurred speech
- Can’t recognize people or places
- Has unusual behavior
- Weakness, numbness, or decreased coordination
All athletes with suspected concussions should see a doctor—either ER or primary care. The doctor can run tests, prescribe pain medication, give a list of dos and don’ts, and follow up with the athlete about returning to play.
Take a Concussion Baseline Test
If you get a concussion, practitioners use a neurocognitive test to determine your cognitive, visual, and other deficits. However, this test is most useful when you have something to compare it to. Getting a baseline test will ensure treatment following a possible concussion is more accurate and necessary. Try to arrange this through your coach, school, or primary physician.
HeadCheck allows for a trained professional to administer a baseline concussion test quickly and easily. It will also provide them with an instant results comparison if you suffer a concussion.
Stay Hydrated and Sun Safe
Depending on your location, summer days can go into the 90s and humidity is inevitable. This means high UV rays, likely muscle cramps, and an increased chance of passing out on the field. Overheating, muscle cramps, and blacking out can lead to athletes suddenly falling over and hitting their head. Falling is the leading cause of concussions, making up over half of all diagnosed each year. Prevent these incidents by encouraging hydration, sun screen use, and other cool down methods like cooling towels and ice packs.
Wear the Right Gear
When skateboarding, biking, kayaking, and training for football, athletes must wear the right gear—no matter how uncomfortable or unnecessary it may seem. A helmet alone cannot prevent a concussion, but it can help limit the impact if you take a hard hit or a fall. Helmets should even be worn by water sports athletes because hitting your head hard against the water surface can be as bad as hitting the ground. If you lose consciousness when boating, water skiing, kayaking, etc., a life vest will keep you afloat until help arrives.
Play Smarter Not Harder
Aggressiveness is great, but overdoing it can lead to an undesirable outcome. Play smarter by learning proper techniques for the sport you’re involved in and knowing your limitations. Coaches especially should educate athletes about how to protect their head when tackling in sports such as football or when heading a soccer ball. Also, take special awareness to mismatches on the field where you have a significantly smaller athlete guarding or running with someone bigger.
Listen to Your Body
Preventing a concussion requires listening to your body to know when enough is enough. It’s common for coaches to require suicides or excessive repetitions to get athletes in shape or punish them for poor performance. However, pushing too far can lead to severe health consequences like passing out, collisions, and muscle cramps. In summer heat especially, players must stop if their body cannot handle anymore.
Coaches should alter practice schedules and game day rotations based on the day’s heat and humidity. They have a responsibility to their team to keep them safe and not shame them if they need a break.
Don’t Play Through An Injury
During the summer, athletes are preparing for team try-outs or playing with elite teams. This means that many athletes will play through their injuries. Not only can this worsen the existing injury, it can cause new ones. For example, running on an injured ankle means your body is weaker than normal; this makes tripping and falling with or without collision likely. This could injure another player and/or result in head trauma.
Coaches need to create a team environment where it’s okay if you can’t play. The weight of a team cannot fall so heavily on one person that they would rather risk injury than sitting out. Start this process through a conversation about the topic and by watching how you talk about your players when others are around.
Promote Concussion Education
No matter how much you need them back in the game, an athlete with a possible concussion cannot return to play until cleared by a doctor. Putting the players’ health above the team’s needs is the #1 thing a coach and parent can do for his or her athletes. Make this known to all players and parents at the season’s start. Also, hand out these concussion safety tips and information about concussion protocol and symptoms. You might even consider electing a concussion coordinator for the team.
Elect or Serve as Concussion Coordinator
Although not as fun a job as bringing snacks, a concussion coordinator plays an important role. They can:
- Educate coaches, parents, and players about concussions in sports
- Gather all contact information for players, their families, and their doctors
- Check that equipment has the proper padding and there is enough gear for every player
- Oversee sideline cool down methods
- Make the call and take over when there’s a possible concussion
- Check in with concussed players to help them feel connected to the team
Concussion recovery can take from a few weeks to a few years. This type of mild traumatic brain injury can even have lifelong emotional, monetary, and physical effects. Staying educated, following the above tips, and taking concussions seriously can help keep you, your children, or your team safe.