Concussion Checklist for NFL and NHL Athletes

One of the primary jobs as a coach of manager of a sports team is keeping pro athletes safe. The concussion checklist provided below will assist you in protecting your athletes from serious brain injury, provide useful tips and guidelines on how to keep your athletes safe, ensure you know how to look for signs of a possible concussion, and offer vital information regarding concussion awareness and protocol steps as well as when a player can safely return to play.

What is a Concussion?

A concussion is basically a kind of traumatic brain injury, or TBI for short, which is triggered by a bump or jolt to the head or by a blow to the body causing the brain or head to quickly move back and forth. The fast movement will cause the brain to twist in the skull or bounce around, creating chemical changes in the brain that can sometimes damage and stretch the brain cells.

How Can You Keep Athletes Safe?

Spots like the National Football League and the National Hockey League are physically demanding and as a coach, your actions certainly create a culture when it comes to safety. This will help a pro athlete to lower the possibility of getting a concussion as well as other sports-related injuries. Unsportsmanlike and/or aggressive behaviour between athletes greatly increases the chances of obtaining a concussion, even with all of the technological advancements in sports. Therefore, we included a few important steps to assist you in keeping your athletes safe:

Discuss the importance of reporting a concussion with each of your athletes.

  • Ensure you talk about any concerns your athletes might have when it comes to reporting a concussion or the symptoms leading up to a concussion. Ensure that each athlete is aware that safety always comes first and that you expect each of them to inform you when they think they might have a concussion.

Develop a culture of safety at practices and games.

  • Educate your athletes on ways to lower the risk of getting a concussion.
  • Enforce rules of the sport for sportsmanship, safety, and fair play.
  • Ensure each athlete avoids unsafe actions, including striking another athlete against the head, using a helmet to injure another player, making illegal contacts or tackling, colliding, or checking with an opponent that is unprotected or attempting to risk the safety of another player through injury.
  • Ensure your athletes are informed that you expect good sportsmanship at all times. Both off and on the field.

Stay up-to-date with information regarding concussions

  • Review the organization, league, and/or state guidelines and protocols on concussions.
  • Take a concussion training course.

Evaluate the sports facilities and equipment regularly.

  • Ensure each athlete wears a helmet that perfectly fits them and that it's in good condition prior to the start of each match or game. There is no such thing as a concussion-proof helmet and therefore it's important to enforce rules of safety, protecting athletes from blows to the head once the helmet comes off during a match.
  • Talk to the event or game administrator to confirm that all equipment on the field is in good condition with enough padding and confirm that all equipment next to the playing field is not hazardous to your players that might cause an injury.

Keep contact information handy in case of an emergency.

  • Always have emergency contact details at hand for health care providers at every single game and ensure the details are valid in case one of your athletes need to be rushed to an emergency room for a concussion.
  • Should first responders arrive on the scene, ensure you provide details on how the injury occurred and how the athlete acted after the injury.

How to Spot a Possible Concussion

Athletes will report or display one of more of the below symptoms and signs or merely inform you that something is wrong after suffering a jolt, blow, or bump to their body or head which will indicate a concussion or another serious brain injury. The below concussion checklist will greatly assist you in spotting a possible concussion:

Signs that can be observed by a coach:

  • Appears stunned or dazed.
  • Is confused about a position or assignment, forgets an instruction, or is unsure of the opponent, score, or game.
  • Moves clumsily.
  • Responds to questions slowly.
  • Loses consciousness.
  • Displays personality, behaviour, or mood changes.
  • Unable to recall events after or prior to a fall or hit.

Symptoms that will be reported by an athlete:

  • Pressure in head or headache.
  • Vomiting or nausea.
  • Dizziness or balance problems, or blurry or double vision.
  • Bothered by noise or light.
  • Feeling groggy, foggy, hazy, or sluggish.
  • Memory, concentration, or confusion problems.

Concussion Protocol Steps

It is vitally important for a pro athlete's coach to observe the player for concussion symptoms after returning to play. To ensure a player is fit to return to regular play, it's important to follow the concussion protocol steps for NFL and other sports we included below. An athlete can only advance to the next step if they don't experience any new symptoms at the current step. Should an athlete's symptoms return or they receive new symptoms, it should be an indication that the athlete is being pushed too hard. Once this occurs, the athlete's medical provider needs to be contacted. After no additional concussion symptoms and rest, the athlete can start over with the following concussion protocol return to play steps:

Rest and Recovery

Athletes are required to stretch and focus on their balance, but no additional workout beyond stretching and focusing on their balance. Furthermore, they are advised against any social media or electronic device and can't spend time on computers. They also don't participate in team meetings.

Light Aerobic Exercises

Under medical staff supervision, an athlete can begin cardiovascular exercises, including a treadmill and using a stationary bike, as well as work on balancing and dynamic stretching. The workout can gradually increase and should be stopped if concussion symptoms return. Athletes can participate in team meetings at this stage.

Introduce Strength Exercises

Increasing gradually on aerobic exercises, the athlete can start including weight training too.

Sports-Specific Work

The athlete can start performing non-contact sport drills, including running, catching, and throwing to their repertoire of exercise. No physical contact allowed with other athletes.

Full Activity, Full Clearance

The athlete can return to practicing with their team. Once the physician of the team clears them, the athlete needs to be examined by a neurological consultant for neurological tests to ensure the athlete can return to play with no limitations.