player on ground after sustaining head injury

Action Plan: What to Do After a Player Sustains a Head Injury

Follow the Return to Play protocol to ensure players are ready to return to activity

If one of your players experiences a head injury during practice or a game, you should first consult the Return to Play protocol that is set in place by the league or the school. All 50 states have Return to Play laws, but schools, sports leagues and organizations adopt them differently, according to the CDC. If a specific plan isn’t in place—or it doesn’t seem thorough enough—consult the CDC’s guidelines, which are a good benchmark for responding to a concussion.

You can ensure your athlete will be safe, healthy and ready to return to play at the appropriate time by following this protocol after a head injury:

Remove the Athlete from the Activity or Game

Be on the lookout for early and common symptoms of a concussion, such as a headache, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, confusion, sensitivity to light, blurry vision, irritability and nausea, according to The Cleveland Clinic.

Keep the Athlete Out of Play

The player should refrain from activity for the remainder of the day of the incident—at least. Do not allow the player to return until he or she has been cleared by a health care provider. Returning the player to activity before he or she has been seen by a medical professional may aggravate the injury and delay recovery.

Know When to Call an Ambulance

If a player demonstrates any of the dangerous symptoms associated with a concussion—such as loss of consciousness, a seizure, one pupil larger than the other or trouble recognizing people or places, according to Rush University Medical Center—call an ambulance right away.

Inform the Player’s Parents of the Head Injury

If the child’s parents or guardians are not at the game or practice, contact them immediately to let them know about the injury and suspected concussion. Provide them with any informational materials you have about concussions, and refer them to additional online resources such as CDC’s HEADS UP Resource Center or the Sports Concussion Resources from the American Academy of Neurology.

Give a Detailed Recording of the Injury to the Health Care Provider

The health care provider will want to know things such as what caused the injury, how forceful the blow was and if the player sustained any loss of consciousness, memory loss or seizures. You should also mention if the player has had previous concussions.

Wait for Clearance

The most vital step after a player sustains a head injury is waiting to return a player to activity until a health care provider has cleared him or her to return to the playing field.

The CDC notes that you should get written instructions from the player’s health care provider before returning him or her to play. Ask the health care provider for information on when to return the athlete to play, and how you as a coach can ensure he or she will be returning safely.

If a player has undergone a concussion, you should follow the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommended set of guidelines before returning the athlete to play. As part of this protocol, youth athletes begin with minimal, light activity and gradually progress through six stages of activity until they are fully ready to re-enter game play.

For more information on concussion signs, symptoms and safety, visit our resource library.