Sarah shares her concussion challenges, lessons she has learned working with athletes, and advice to other ATs.
In this series, we spotlight a customer to share their career story, advice and show our appreciation for their hard work and continued support of HeadCheck.
Sarah Nichols is a highly passionate and experienced person who has worked with athletes for many years. Sarah is a registered kinesiologist and is in the final year of her master’s program to be an Osteopathic Manual Practitioner. She has been the Lead Trainer for the Central Canada Hockey League (CCHL) for three years and has worked with the 73s since 2015.
Sarah was an athlete herself, having played competitive hockey growing up. Unfortunately, she has had 12 concussions in the past, her first of which was at a hockey tournament. Because there was no concussion protocol in place, Sarah continued to play for the rest of the tournament.
“There was no protocol when I had my first few. It was just that I hit my head, had a headache, felt awful, couldn’t sit in the dressing room with music on, the lights were bothering me, but I still played the entire tournament. It wasn’t until I got home the following week that I got checked out. And then when I did get checked out, the protocol was to take a few days off school, sit in a dark room, have your parents wake you up every few hours, and then try to play again and see how you feel. Unfortunately, since I returned to the ice prematurely, I ended up having more concussions that same season.”
Concussion protocols now are very different as there is a clear return-to-play process, and clearance is required before returning to play.
The Challenges of Working with Concussed Athletes
Sarah shares how difficult it can be to convince an athlete suspected of having a concussion to stay off the ice. Athletes want to be in the game so badly that you need to prove why they cannot keep playing. One way to show an athlete proof is to compare their baseline with a post-injury assessment so they can see the difference themselves.
The most important thing is educating athletes on how they can return to the sport safely. Concussions do not present the same in everyone every time. Working with each player on a case-by-case basis is vital to help them heal as quickly as possible.
How Sarah’s Personal Experience With Concussions Helps Her Empathize with Athletes
Having had many concussions herself, Sarah can sense how the athletes are feeling and communicate the severity of the situation with them empathetically. This knowledge helps the athletes feel understood as feelings of isolation during the recovery process are difficult for anyone.
Her priority is getting athletes back in a rink environment as quickly as possible so that they still feel connected to the sport and their team.
“We like to get them around teammates as early as we can. Being around the boys and in that environment makes the athlete more receptive to their recovery process and still feel connected to their team.”
Some methods to getting them back at the rink include:
1. having the athlete come in for practices so they can hear the noises of the game
2. hockey-specific rehabilitation methods to simulate a game environment, and
3. being around the other players in any situation they can. Sarah will even get teammates involved in the concussed athletes’ rehabilitation process, given consent from all parties.
Sarah’s Advice To Others Working With Athletes
“Trust your gut, especially with concussions. If it is telling that something looked off about the hit or how the athlete went down, it is best to listen to that intuition.”
Sarah highlights how important it is to err on the side of caution if something looked wrong when the athlete got hit.
“The consequences of the hit are not worth dealing with for the rest of their life,” she states.
Alongside their physical rehabilitation after an injury, it is equally important to work on mental health. Helping an athlete regain their social life, as well as their mental wellness, is a massive part of recovery. Sarah will slowly integrate social activities into their recovery while ensuring that their symptoms are not being exacerbated.
How HeadCheck Supports Sarah In Her Role
Sarah mentioned that one of her concussion challenges was convincing athletes that there is a reason she is removing them from play.
“On the HeadCheck App, there is a page where you can compare an athlete’s baseline with their post-injury assessment on the same page and see the differences.”
“When you show an athlete that objective data as to why you are pulling them out of the game, it helps them understand why they cannot keep playing.”
Sarah uses HeadCheck to stay organized and maintain all of her athletes’ profiles. As she works with two teams and many different athletes, having all of their information on her phone without having to carry piles of paperwork has been invaluable. Sarah uses the player profiles like an overall player file. She will upload any information about them, such as clearance notes for any injury, so that all information is in one place.
Sarah is a valued customer at HeadCheck, and we thank her for her continued support, hard work and valuable insights she has shared with us. Here are a few words Taffita Chadsey, a member of our Customer Success Team, has to say about Sarah.
“Sarah has been an active user and has completed contract work with HeadCheck for the past few years. She is very attentive and caring towards her athletes, while overseeing the medical component of an entire hockey league. At HeadCheck, we commend her for the passion she has when providing care for any athlete that she comes in contact with. She truly cares about the safety of the athletes and her passion shines through in the role that she plays.”Taffita Chadsey, HeadCheck Customer Success Team