Safeguarding Young Athletes: Concussion Detection and Prevention

Concussions can occur in almost every team sport and pose significant long-term health risks to young athletes. With growing awareness and advancements in technology, new tools and protocols are emerging to improve safety and decrease the long-term consequences of concussions. Families, physicians, coaches, and trainers all play a key role in preventing concussions and assuring that athletes completely recover when one occurs.

What Is a Concussion?

A concussion is an injury of the brain that can happen with blows to the head, or even with significant jolts that cause the brain to bounce or move within the skull, causing chemical changes in the brain and possibly damaging brain cells. While most concussions are not life-threatening, they can be serious and cause long-term health problems. Repeated concussions or returning to play before full recovery puts athletes at risk for long-term effects.

Concussion symptoms can take minutes or days to appear and usually resolve within days to weeks, depending on the severity of the injury. Recovery requires rest, including decreased or no screen time. Any activity that makes symptoms worse needs to be avoided until the brain has time to heal.


Detecting a concussion quickly and removing a young athlete from play is very important to prevent further injury or a longer recovery. Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing (ImPACT testing) is the most accurate and effective method to evaluate a possible concussion. Healthcare professionals can also use specialized sideline assessments that include physical, mental, and balance evaluations to aid in diagnosis.
Wearable technologies, such as impact sensors embedded in helmets or mouthguards that can monitor and record impacts during sports activities are becoming increasingly available to schools and the public. These innovations empower coaches, parents, and medical staff to make informed decisions about athlete safety and allow prompt medical intervention.

Seek immediate evaluation if the athlete:
  • passes out, even if only for a few seconds
  • vomits more than once after a head injury
  • seems confused, very sleepy, or weak
Anyone with these symptoms should immediately visit the emergency department. If you are not sure, contact their pediatrician, take the athlete to the Emergency Department, or call 911.
Immediate Care can perform a neurologic exam and write a letter excusing a child from school or sports but cannot determine when they can return to play or treat serious concussions.


Preventing concussions in young athletes includes education, safe practices, rule enforcement, and protective equipment. Educating athletes, parents, coaches, and officials about the signs and symptoms of concussions, as well as the importance of reporting and addressing head injuries, promotes a culture of safety. Athletes who suffer a blow to the head should never be encouraged to “shake it off”.

Further steps toward prevention include:
  • Strict enforcement of rules and penalties discourages dangerous play that may lead to head trauma.
  • Assure that protective equipment such as helmets and mouthguards fit properly to minimize the impact of blows to the head. Advancements in helmet technology, such as improved padding and energy-absorbing materials, are continuously evolving to enhance protection.
  • Modify sports rules and practices, such as banning certain high-risk drills or limiting contact during practice, can minimize the frequency and severity of head injuries.
  • Encourage a comprehensive approach to physical conditioning, including neck strengthening exercises and proper tackling techniques, to aid in reducing concussion risk in sports like football.
  • Advocate for changing rules and norms around wearing protective headwear in sports that currently do not mandate headgear, such as soccer.
Concussions may occur in even the safest of circumstances. Coaches, trainers, athletes, and parents all have a role in preventing concussions and treating them properly when they occur. Have a safe season!

Posted: 8/2/2023 by Renee Broze, APRN, Immediate Care