Athletes deserve to play sports in a culture that celebrates teamwork, dedication, communication and hard work. These sports players need an environment that values safety. Coaches, families and medical practitioners should come together to make sure that athletic programs are dedicated to injury prevention – especially when it comes to brain injuries, such as concussions.
Many contact sports, including football, ice hockey and basketball, have an increased risk for brain injuries. The risk of concussion even exists in sports where human-to-human contact is rare, such as cycling, swimming and skiing.
Sports committees, players and coaches should take precautionary measures to reduce the risk of brain injuries. Here are a few recommendations to minimize the risk of a concussion:
1 – Wear Appropriate Safety Gear
Safety gear helps keep a part of the body safe throughout a game or match. If there’s a skiing competition, for instance, skiers can wear protective headgear, such as a Giro range helmet. This can keep a player or athlete from experiencing further injuries that can exacerbate the severity of a concussion or brain injury.
2 – Educate Sports Players on the Dangers of Concussions
Given that concussions are highly common and considered a functional injury, some players are not aware of how detrimental this condition can be to the brain if left untreated. A sports culture exists wherein athletes are “playing through the pain” or walking off an injury to win a match or avoid letting their teammates down.
Ignoring the serious nature of a concussion can be dangerous. When left undiagnosed, this traumatic brain injury can lead to severe complications, such as cognitive impairment, post-traumatic seizures and mental disorders.
Unlike a sprained foot or broken bone, the signs of a concussion can be subtle. A player or athlete may say that they’re feeling fine, even when they’re not.
Coaches and athletes, therefore, should make sure to recognize the symptoms pointing to a concussion. A few signs to watch out for include the following:
- Appearing confused or dazed
- Feeling foggy or sluggish
- Responding to questions slowly
- Forgetting instructions
- Dizziness or balance problems
- Sensitivity to noise and light
3 – Enforces the Sports Rules Effectively
Sports organizers, coaches and referees should come together to make sure that each player or athlete adheres to the rules of gameplay. These rules are in place to help keep sports players on both teams stay safe. When teams do their best to follow the rules, they can make the environment safer for everyone and cut down the risk of concussions and other bodily injuries.
If a player does go outside the rules, such as intentionally trying to injure a star athlete from the other team to gain an advantage, referees should intervene and prevent this incident from escalating any further. Depending on the severity of the offense, the referee may slap a penalty on the offending player or remove the individual from the game entirely.
4 – Make Policy Changes to Minimize Concussion Risk
Some sports may need changes in policies or rules to significantly lower the risk of concussion. This is ideal for schools that have kids and teens playing contact sports. A coach or a parent could suggest the following rule changes to the sports committee:
- Fair Play Rules – This entails awarding tournament points to hockey teams with low penalty minutes. The goal of this policy change is to make sure that teams play clean.
- Zero-Tolerance Policy on Head Contact – Hockey players should not try to actively aim for another player’s head. They should not tackle another person’s head nor hit that part of the body with the hockey stick. Anyone caught doing this will receive a major penalty or face ejection from the game.
- Body Check Ban – Checking occurs when a defensive player intentionally collides into an opponent handling the puck. Banning body checks in youth ice hockey can help minimize bodily injuries.
5 – Come up with a Concussion Response Plan
When an athlete falls head first or seemingly takes a hard hit on the head, the best thing to do is to temporarily remove the player from the game and have a health care provider do a physical checkup. No potentially injured athlete should re-enter a game until a physician or a qualified medical practitioner has completed a thorough examination and given the go-signal to return.
The risk of concussion along with other traumatic brain injuries will always be there for as long as contact sports exist. Although you won’t be able to eliminate concussions from sports completely, you can reduce the risk by promoting and practicing a safe sport culture in competitive events.