Get Your Head “Out of” the Game

In recent months, there has been an increase in awareness surrounding the issue of sports injuries in the news and among the public. Just in the last week, concussions in particular have been a hot topic in many different sports, including but not limited to water polo, soccer, rugby and football.

Today, most sport and health institutions recognize the severity of head trauma, and the life-long impacts they can have, which is why various interventions have been created and implemented to ameliorate the negative health outcomes associated with brain injury. This is also why many professional leagues have been adopting new rules to help prevent head injuries during game play.

However, even if these new rules reduce the number of concussions sustained in sports, the risk of brain injury can never be completely eliminated. Therefore, an important factor to acknowledge is the systemic practice of athletes returning to play before they are physically fit to do so. Athletes in “elite sports” are willing to play even when suffering from injuries.

Athletes feel pressured to continue to play through injuries, including concussions, due to a range of reasons. These reasons may include desire to remain part of the team, not wanting to stop playing the game, not wanting to look weak in front of teammates/coaching staff, and/or lack of support from coaches. In fact:

“few [coaches] explicitly supported playing through injury; however, this did not mean that their athletes did not experience an implicit message that playing through injury was a valued behavior.”

Kroshus, Garnett, Hawrilenko, Baugh, & Calzo (2015)
Concussion under-reporting and pressure from coaches, teammates, fans, and parents

Consequently, many athletes downplay the severity of their injuries which can increase their risk of more serious health outcomes down the road. To fix this situation, athletes as well as coaches and  of sports teams need to be educated in the dangers of playing while injured, particularly in the case of head injuries. Furthermore, social norms need to be challenged so that athletes are not returning to play solely so they do not look “weak” in front of their team.


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