Among the things which increase the anxiety level of parents of children playing contact sports is the fact that many high school programs don't employ athletic trainers who have received training in recognizing the often subtle signs of a concussion. Only 42 percent of U.S. high schools, according to the National Athletic Trainers' Association, have access to an AT.* In some states, the number is much lower (Over three-quarters of Nebraska high schools, for instance, are without ATs).
Thus, the fourth point in the Parent's Bill of Rights on Concussions is the right to expect that a certified athletic trainer (AT) is on staff. An AT is so important that she should be the next hire after the head coach. An AT is an essential member of the concussion management team because:
- The AT often sees the athlete on a daily basis, and thus has the opportunity to establish a trusting relationship. This trust is a vital part of the process of evaluating and managing a concussion.
- Athletes may be more comfortable reporting symptoms to an AT, who they see on a regular basis, than to a physician they do not see regularly, or to their coach.
- An AT may also be better able to identify subtle signs that an athlete has suffered a concussion because he or she knows the athlete's usual behavior and demeanor.
- An AT is also in best position to perform daily follow-up examinations that allow the AT and team physician to determine when the athlete is symptom-free and determine when he or she may return to play.
Because physicians are present at relatively few youth sports contests and never at practices, an AT is essential and we should work towards the goal of having a certified athletic trainer on staff at every high school in this country.
* October 25, 2015 update: In 2014, the National Athletic Trainers' Association released preliminary data showing that approximately two thirds of U.S. secondary schools with an ongoing athletic program now have access to athletic trainers (ATs), whether full-time or part-time, a significant improvement from its 2005 estimate that only about 40-45% had such access. indeed, according to a survey by the Korey Stringer Institute, certified athletic trainers now provide coverage to fully 85-90% of all high school athletes in the U.S. In some states, however, the percentages are much lower. (Over three-quarters of Nebraska high schools, for instance, are without ATs)