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Knowing when to sit out with a concussion

By Natalie Botzang, 04/11/17, 10:45AM EDT


You can help your teammate make the right call

This Holland Bloorview series continues to educate on concussions and how to manage them properly

When it comes to concussions in soccer, the role of coaches, parents, trainers, and officials is often talked about in recognizing a suspected concussion – but what about the role of teammates? Teammates also play a critical part in the safety of young players, and in some cases have a greater influence on the decisions their peers make. 

What can you do if you think your teammate suffered a concussion and they’re still playing? Here are some strategies you can use to help them make the right call by using the guiding principle ‘When in doubt, sit it out.’

1. Communicate your concern

If you think your teammate has had a concussion, it is critical to communicate your concern about how they’re feeling. Here are some key points you should communicate when speaking with a teammate you suspect had a concussion: 

  • “Did you injure yourself – you’re not playing like your usual self?”
  • “You don’t look well – do you think you might have a concussion?”
  • “Is everything okay? You don’t seem like yourself lately.”

2. Tailor your message to that teammate to encourage them to sub off and tell the coach

It can be difficult for your teammate to tell their coach how they feel and sub off. Keep in mind that tailoring each of your messages to your teammate is the most effective way to get your teammate to make the right decision. Would they respond more to a light-hearted joke? Or a direct question? Remember: Go with the message that you know will work best for your teammate. Here are some examples of tailored messages to communicate to your teammate so that they make the right decision for their health: 

  • “Better be safe and sub off. We need you healthy!”
  • “I’ll try harder not to let them score while you’re off, okay?”
  • “Take a minute to make sure your head’s thinking straight. It takes courage to walk off. It’s okay to sit out – you’re still the toughest player I know.”
  • “The sooner you look after yourself the sooner you’ll be back on the field.”

If your teammate does make the right decision and subs off, remember to give them positive feedback right away. Continue to provide supportive comments to your teammate once they’ve been removed from play, and engage your coach for support. They need reassurance from both that they did the right thing – it’s easy to feel isolated with a concussion.

3. Address your teammate's fears

Don’t forget to address your teammate’s specific fears, for these can keep them oblivious to the seriousness of their potential injury. Some of these fears can include:

  • Fear of losing importance to the team: Loss of playing-time and position, or of no longer being needed.
  • Fear about the injury: The injury is worse than it is; never being able to play again or fully recovering.
  • Fear of how others will react: Appearing weak, fragile, or lazy; appearing disloyal or not committed to the team.

Be sure to address these fears in your teammate to help them make the right decision. Reinforce their importance and value to the team. Tell them that early removal leads to better recovery in the long run. 

Why is it important to look out for your teammates?

A suspected concussion has the potential to worsen – just like any other injury – if not addressed immediately. Do not be afraid or anxious for helping your teammate. The worst case scenario if they go off the playing field and don’t have a concussion is loss of playing time or game. However, think of the dangerous consequences if they did have a concussion but stayed on the field. You and your teammate need all the brain power to stay healthy and be able to participate in the sport you love. Helping each other make the right call to ‘sit out when in doubt’ is the first step. 

Holland Bloorview has developed a Concussion Handbook which is a fantastic guide for learning more about dealing with concussions. 

Click here to download or read the Concussion Handbook online.

About the Writer

Natalie is a recent MSc. Kinesiology graduate from the University of Waterloo and a volunteer at the Holland Bloorview Concussion Centre with intentions to continue onto a PhD, focusing on neuropsychological aspects of concussion. Being a varsity soccer alumnus and having interned as a strength and conditioning coach at the University of Waterloo and McMaster University, she takes a practical approach to her passion for helping others, and focuses on minimizing risk of injury and improving quality of life for athletes and non-athletes alike in various roles within the strength and conditioning field.