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    February 2014

    Concussions in Club and Intramural Sports

    photo: coach helping hockey player laying on the ice

    Although club and intramural sports pose a risk of concussions, or mild traumatic brain injury (TBI), many participants do not receive the same education or training as varsity athletes. These sports programs usually lack the oversight and resources of an intercollegiate program. Poor concussion management can lead to improper identification and treatment of this serious injury; student athletes may not recognize their concussion symptoms and fail to seek medical care.

    To prevent concussion risks, United Educators offers the following suggestions for supporting club and intramural sports programs:

    Develop a concussion management plan (CMP). Seek professional legal and medical guidance. The NCAA Sports Medicine Handbook chapter on concussions is useful, although it doesn’t apply to club sports. When drafting a CMP, consider the availability of resources and personnel in departments overseeing club sports. Institutions risk liability when they don’t enforce their own standards.

    Consult with counsel about pre-season baseline testing. While research does not support the testing’s necessity, it is widely used in varsity programs and recommended by the NCAA. Many colleges and universities offer baseline tests for all club athletes, or those participating in contact sports, such as field hockey, lacrosse, rugby, and soccer, and wrestling. Athletes that opt out are asked to sign a waiver or assumption of risk form. Discuss with counsel whether baseline testing of club athletes is advantageous. Institutions choosing not to offer testing should document their reasoning.

    Educate and train officers, coaches, athletes, and referees. Club sports and intramurals are usually organized and managed by students. They are often the first to spot injuries since athletic trainers and physicians are typically not on the sidelines. Educate coaches and athletes on concussions, including:

    • Signs and symptoms of concussions
    • The seriousness of this injury
    • The requirement to self-report injuries
    • The violation of the student code of conduct for those who fail to self-report

    Require athletes to sign a release before participation. Retain these forms as evidence that the institution educated and supported its club and intramural teams in concussion management. Each release should:

    • Identify the risks, including concussions, of club sports
    • Acknowledge that the athlete is assuming the risks of participation
    • Acknowledge an athlete received concussion education or training
    • Require the athlete to immediately report any signs or symptoms they experience or observe in others
    • Acknowledge that medical professionals are often not present and athletes are responsible for contacting health professionals or emergency services for an injury or medical issue
    • Release the institution from responsibility for injuries or losses arising out of the athlete’s participation

    Immediately remove from play or practice any athlete who is suspected of suffering a concussion. The current standard is to return athletes to play only after an evaluation by a medical professional with experience in treating concussions. Make sure student athletes know where to obtain an evaluation and clearance form, such as the student health center, sport science department, athletic trainers, or local emergency room. Document provision of this information to all student athletes.

    Athletes who suffer a concussion must be cleared, in writing, by a medical professional before returning to play. Many institutions require the completion of a medical clearance form.

    Document the institution’s handling of concussions. Retain documentation about the incident, evaluation, management, and clearance of the athlete.


    Resources

    EduRisk: Checklist for Creating an Athletics Concussion Management Plan
    The Citadel Military College (SC): Concussion Protocol Acknowledgement Form for Intramural and Club Athletics  
    University of Mary Washington: Sport Club Concussion Management Model
    University of North Carolina: Sports Clubs Release and Indemnity Agreement

    By Joe Vossen, associate risk management counsel 


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