Don't put a brave face on it

by Will Roberts, Head of Sport, Youth Sport Trust

School and youth sport has received a significant level of media interest and coverage over the last 12-18 months… but sadly a large proportion of this has been for entirely the wrong reasons.

More serious than the usual concerns about selling of playing fields, or the amount of time being lost for PE lesson due to pressures around academic performance - this is a matter of life and death.

Concussion has for a long time been an injury little talked about, but it is something that we must understand and deal with - or we could be facing the ultimate nightmare of a young person not returning home from school due to an injury suffered on the playing fields.

So, what is concussion?

  • Concussion is a brain injury caused by a blow to the head or body, which leads to shaking of the brain
  • Concussion results in a disturbance in brain function that can affect a child or young person’s thinking, memory, mood, behaviour and level of consciousness. It can produce a wide range of physical symptoms and signs such as headache, dizziness and unsteadiness
  • Concussion often occurs without loss of consciousness
  • Most concussions recover with a period of physical and mental rest

Sports do contain an element of injury risk, especially contact sports and we should always evaluate that risk, putting in plans to minimise it and safeguard participants. But we must also ensure that sport and physical education of enjoyable and engage, enthusing young people to want to come back for more. There are many activities we undertake which present a risk, but we seek to understand and mitigate that risk rather than avoid the activity itself.  

As a sportsman myself, I have suffered two memorable blows to the head. One playing football resulted in being knocked unconscious momentarily, and the other involved a 6 foot 10 inch tall team mate in my volleyball team spiking to ball into my eye causing temporary damage (which looked quite dramatic to others). On both occasions I was swiftly packed off to hospital for medical attention - but they were both incidents at the more severe end. If it had been a blow to the head that hadn't resulted in unconsciousness, would I have received the same care or attention? Luckily the volunteers who were responsible for my welfare took their role seriously - but I'm not sure they really 'knew' what to do, they acted on instinct.

Professional sport sends a mixed message in this regard, and whilst we see senior internationals in one sport ruled out of action for months, in another we see players continuing after losing consciousness - and being lauded by their employers as 'brave' and 'heroic.'

We often hear of the importance of role models in elite sport, but I can think of nothing more important than concussion where such behaviours must always follow the right path.

The issue of concussion has had a raised profile with National Governing Bodies of Sport over recent years, and coordinated by the Sport and Recreation Alliance (SRA), the Youth Sport Trust along with partners in the sport and education landscape, and medical experts in the field of neurology have come together to develop guidelines that can be used across all sports. The concussion guidelines for the education sector, launched this week by the SRA have set out simple steps that anyone in the sector can follow.

  • Recognise - the symptoms, "if in doubt, sit them out."
  • Remove - if you then suspect concussion, the young person must not return to play
  • Recover - rest the body and the brain. For complete recovery this should be at least 14 days
  • Return - for both school studies and sports participation a managed, or graded return is recommended.

Click here to download the guidelines and links to helpful resources including information on GRTP.