It seemed like a normal tackle.
There was no nauseating thud or crack when 14-year-old Brigid Sullivan’s head bounced off her opponent’s knee during a semi-pro soccer game.
“I just got up and kept playing,” Brigid said.
But that innocuous knock reverberated through the next few months of Brigid’s life.
She started getting terrible headaches, dizzy spells, draining fatigue and nausea.
She took two weeks off school, unable to look at screens, read her textbooks or complete her class work. It would take a full school term to return to her studies full-time.
“I couldn’t remember what I just read on a page, and I’d really struggled to grasp concepts,” she said.
She missed the soccer season. Every time she tried to get back on the field, the sick feeling returned.
“I wasn’t really myself. I was quieter and sadder. I wasn’t as fun and energetic [as I had been],” she said.
Brigid, now 17, is fully recovered and in year 11 at Ascham School.
The aspiring soccer player is back on the field and a staunch supporter of the girls’ school’s new concussion management policy.
Emerging evidence suggests female athletes are more likely to suffer concussion from less brutal blows, and report more symptoms, than male athletes.
Most concussions don’t result in loss of consciousness, making them difficult to detect.
“We realised we really needed to look at this more seriously,” Ascham’s head of sport Stuart Hanrahan said.
He began researching concussion and enlisted the help of HeadSmart, a sports program that offers education and tools to help organisations assess and manage concussion.
“It was a really fascinating project, learning about how sports codes and teams managed concussion and tailoring it for our school environment,” Mr Hanrahan said.
The policy does not expect coaches to diagnose concussion from the sidelines.
“We took diagnosis completely off the table,” he said.
Instead, the school has a strict policy: if a student sustains any knock to the head, she comes off immediately and doesn’t go back on for the rest of the game.
The move hasn’t been universally popular.
“Parents want their kids to get back in the game. But I’d much rather have an angry call on Monday morning saying, ‘You didn’t let my daughter back on the field’ than ‘You let her back on and now she’s in the emergency room.’ ”
Adrian Cohen at the University of Sydney and director of HeadSafe – a concussion research, education and advocacy group – said the NSW Department of Education concussion guidelines were “very vague and generic”.
The concussion advice under “further information” in the sports safety guidelines advises schools to look immediately for “a bump to the head or body” and, if concussion occurs, the student should stop participating immediately and can only return to sport once all symptoms are resolved and with medical clearance.
A spokesman for the NSW Department of Education said the guidelines were written in consultation with the Office of Sport, and community sporting organisations including the AFL, NRL, Rugby NSW and the Sydney Children’s Hospital.
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald