Dordt College News

Concussion discussion

August 20, 2011

How Dordt coaches and athletes try to prevent and care for injuries

Senior Lexi Elgersma does not remember much about the day she  received a concussion last fall. She knows she was playing her usual position as forward for the Dordt women’s soccer game against Hastings; everything after that, however, is blank.

“Everyone told me afterward that I was going for a ball on the front line and got tangled up with a defender,” she says.

She was also told that, as she fell, she hit her head twice against the ground. She laid motionless before standing up and falling down again.

“I started walking in circles and was not really sure where I was,” she says. “Coach pulled me out of the game.”

A concussion story like Elgersma’s is a harsh reality of high-impact sports such as soccer and football.

“You can protect yourself however you want, but you’re still going to have instances of concussions,” says Fagerness. “So, it is important that you know how to recognize symptoms and manage the injury to the best of your ability.”

Watching a player suffer from a concussion is not easy for a coach, says Bill Bauer, Dordt’s assistant football coach. “It is sad, because I know that they might suffer for a while from headaches and that type of thing.”

Bauer says he and other coaches “want to do all we can to protect our players because there is life outside of football.”

Athletic trainer Chris Fagerness says that, although there is no law as to how trainers should treat concussions, Dordt’s certified athletic trainers and coaches have a protocol that they follow.

For example, all soccer and football players must take the imPACT test, a computerized neurocognitive assessment test that serves as a base line for normal brain activity.

“They take the test the first day they step onto campus,” says Dave Schenk, head women’s soccer coach at Dordt.

Dordt coaches and trainers have many ways of preventing concussions. In football, coaches teach tackling techniques that emphasize “contact by wrapping up and stopping instead of going all out to the ground,” says Fagerness. Dordt football players also wear highly rated helmets, and soccer players work with the strength and conditioning coordinator to improve neck and upper body strength to lessen the effect of whiplash.

But, when a player takes a hard hit during a game and begins showing signs of a concussion, trainers immediately begin a recovery process.

“First, we give them a SCAT2 test,” says Fagerness. The test includes symptomatic, cognitive, and physical evaluations to determine if the player has suffered from a concussion and if he or she needs to go to the emergency room. The SCAT2 test is given directly after the injury occurs, helping to determine its severity.

“We make sure they have someone who can monitor them overnight,” says Fagerness.

“Usually we will talk to a roommate or a parent, and sometimes they’ll stay overnight at a coach’s house.”

Trainers continue to monitor an injured player on a day-to-day basis, asking the player’s roommates and coach for regular updates on the player’s condition. After a few days have passed, the player must retake the imPACT test to check for brain activity changes.

“It’s great because the two tests provide something measurable,” says Schenk. “Even if the player is feeling better, we can show them where they were originally and where they are post-injury.”

Elgersma remembers her experience. “They compared my post-injury test on the computer to my base line test,” she recalls. “They could see exactly the areas of my memory that were affected.”

Concussions have an impact on player’s lives off the field as well. An injured player must limit brain activity to improve faster, and this can affect class time.

“We send out an email to all of the student’s professors to let them know about the injury,” says Fagerness.

Professors want the student to heal just as much as the coaches and trainers do; Elgersma can attest to that.

“My professors were extremely understanding and gave me plenty of time to make up work,” says Elgersma.

Once the player has completed Dordt’s concussion recovery process, the coaches and trainers encourage him or her to take time before returning to the field.

“We’re always trying to work to the glory and honor of God, and we know that putting a guy back in when he’s not well does not bring honor and glory to God,” says Bauer. “We want to do the right thing.”

Not all concussions are alike; some have a greater impact than others. Elgersma says that, to this day, she feels the repercussions of her injury. “I still have headaches a year later from the concussion,” she says.

But, she adds, she received a lot of support from not only her coaches and trainers but from the Dordt community.

“In high school I played through concussions and toughed it out,” she says. “There is no way I could have gotten away with that at Dordt.”


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