I spent this past weekend at a huge girls hockey prospects tournament and met hundreds of amazing young players who aspire to achieve great things on and off the ice. I also met a handful of players and their parents who had either recently sustained a concussion or suspected that they had a concussion, who were looking for guidance on when to return to the ice. This subject is near and dear to my heart as I have had 4 major concussions and have written about this topic many times over the past year. I always advise players and parents to air on the side of caution and stay away from the ice until they are symptom free. I am being 100% honest with them, but I also know that I am being a little bit hypocritical, having played through more than my fair share of suspected head injuries in my career. Back then, I knew it probably wasn’t the smartest decision, but that wouldn’t stop me from playing. Coincidentally enough, after spending the last 3 days taking about concussions with young players and their parents, today the New York Times reported on some new concussion guidelines that are causing some controversy.
According to the New York Times article, “an international panel of neurologists, said that any athlete 18 or younger who was believed to have sustained a concussion during a game or practice should never be allowed to return to the playing field the same day. The group had previously said that such athletes could return if cleared by a doctor or certified athletic trainer, but now contend that such determinations are too difficult and dangerous for same-day return to be considered safe.”
“Other doctors, many of whom work the sidelines of high school athletic events, said they feared the effects of such strictness. They predicted that athletes would respond by hiding their injuries from coaches and trainers even more than they are already known to do, leaving them at risk for a second and more dangerous concussion.”
I would argue that this group’s concerns are valid.
Concussions are an invisible injury. Unless a player is knocked unconscious or is clearly “out of it”, it can be very hard to tell whether they have sustained an injury or not.
It’s easy for a doctor, parent, coach or trainer to say that a player should be held out of a game or practice after a suspected head injury, but most young athletes will do absolutely anything they can to avoid missing out on playing time.
I was one of those athletes. And 4 major concussions later (3 of which I played through), I am left with a shoddy short-term memory and a lot of questions as to why I didn’t think that a concussion was a serious enough injury to keep me from playing.
Just because you can play through it, it doesn’t mean you should.
But it is very hard to tell an athlete that.
Young athletes think they are invincible. They don’t worry about long-term consequences of their actions – they just want to compete. Telling them that going back into practice or game, and getting hit again, might cause permanent damage falls on deaf ears.
I remember back to the first major concussion I sustained in my freshman year of playing women’s college hockey. I got elbowed in the head after taking a shot in the slot and immediately felt “off”. I had a headache and felt sick to my stomach. But I played the rest of the game and actually ended up scoring the most points of my college career in that game. I don’t remember a single thing that happened on the ice after that hit, but I knew that I was playing well, so I didn’t tell the trainer or coach that I felt horrible.
It wasn’t until after the game was over and I was talking my equipment off that I felt like I had been run-over by the Zamboni. I spent the entire bus ride home flat out on my back and wondering why the ceiling of the bus was spinning. I went to the hospital as soon as we got back on campus and was immediately diagnosed with a concussion.
I spent the next two weeks in bed, unable to study, skate or socialize. Every time I cracked a book open, I got a horrible headache. I went for a walk with one of my teammates one week after getting hit and I could only last 20 minutes before feeling extremely weak and sick. I missed all of my exams for the fall term and had to make them up in January. I felt “off” for the next two months, but of course, I was back on the ice two weeks after the hit. I played through it, telling everyone I felt fine when I really felt horrible. I got hit with an innocent looking elbow late in February and ended up missing another week.
No one was going to keep me from playing the sport I loved with my friends and teammates. The trainers and coaches couldn’t “see” that my head hurt, I felt queasy or that I didn’t know where I was half the time. They had to take my word that I felt “fine”.
Potentially serious head injuries must be taken more seriously by trainers, parents, coaches and players alike, and I believe this new guideline is a step in the right direction. The guidelines are simple: players should not return to activity on the same day that they have sustained a suspected head injury.
The challenge will be: How do you enforce it when you know that the young athlete will do anything and everything to keep playing? Could this be the critical step in the concussion solution for girls hockey?
If you have any suggestions on how these guidelines should be enforced in girls hockey, please share your thoughts in the comment box below.
Your friend and coach,