I had a wonderful chance encounter this morning with a local high school football coach. When I told him that I enjoy talking to athletes about sports-related concussions, he asked me what, exactly, I talk about. My answer? “Common sense.”
July in Georgia marks the start of another football season and with that, a likely surge in the hysteria, folklore, and marketing dollars that have become part of the sports-concussion landscape. One of the most important parts of my job in managing concussions is to help spread accurate information – about what, exactly, concussions are and how best to manage them, so that when they do occur, the secondary fallout is minimized and youth athletes are able to return to the classrooms and playing fields as quickly and safely as possible.
So what, exactly, do I say?
First, I want to make sure we’re all speaking the same language and that athletes actually know what a concussion is. Despite the mandatory concussion education for GA high school athletes since 2013, I still find that injured athletes – many of whom see a few other healthcare providers before they get to my office – still don’t know what, exactly, a concussion is. And, if they don’t know what it is, how are they supposed to be able to manage it well?
When I explain what a concussion is, I also include discussion of how it affects the athlete.. for example, how an offensive lineman’s quality of play can be impacted by slowed reaction time… or what happens to a quarterback when dizziness spikes with rapid head and eye movements… or how about that cheerleading flyer who’s dizzy and thinking more slowly than usual? Add to that the increased pressure of a few AP classes and the cumulative effects of only 5-6 hours of sleep/night, and athletes can start to see that hiding their symptoms may not be the way to stay in the game longer or to continue support their teammates.
Concomitantly, I also talk about the role of an athlete’s common sense, self-awareness, and self-control in minimizing symptom increase during recovery, along with the importance of workload and classroom management. I acknowledge how our typical suck-it-up-and-play approach to sports-injury management can be counter-productive in facilitating recovery from concussion, and how we manage concussions very differently than we manage other sports injuries.
Finally, I also talk about risk management, and what athletes can do to minimize their own risk of concussion and prolonged recoveries. This can include some discussion of things like heads-up tackling, equipment and field conditions, for example. I also emphasize the importance of sleep, hydration, and good conditioning, what it means to “listen to your body,” and how to truly look out for teammates. Coaches and athletic trainers play key roles here, too, in creating and maintaining a culture that promotes player safety in addition to the competitive edge.
In a perfect world, conversations like this would be starting again across our state’s locker rooms, playing fields and gyms as pre-season practices begin. Let me know how I can help start the conversation for your team.