Community-based Sports Activities

Considering the time and energy you devote to your community by volunteering to coach you are most certainly concerned about the children in your care. Coaches for community-based sports clubs are often the “adult in charge” during a practice or competition. In addition to teaching players good sportsmanship, rules of play, technique for the sport and how to wear the gear, being in charge means interacting with parents, players and referees as well. It is important for everyone to be on the same page regarding what to do when a concussion may be suspected during community-based sports activities.

What do coaches for community-based youth sports programs need to know?

Community-based youth sports programs are quite different from interscholastic sports with regard to structure of the organization, accountability, and training of coaches and other staff. Most volunteer coaches have taken a coaching course like the Rutgers Development Council’s coaching course at one time or another. The Rutgers course absolves you of liability should a child be hurt or injured during the activity that you coach. New information about concussion is currently provided in the Rutgers course but if you took the course prior to 2007 you probably did not receive this information. It is important to become educated about the current understandings about concussions. If your sports organization uses municipal sports fields it was required to sign a compliance statement with the school district’s concussion policy that was mandated by the 2010 New Jersey Concussion Law. Regardless of the Law or the school district’s policy on concussion, you are the first line of defense against concussion for the children you coach and your knowledge helps to ensure their safety.


What is in the New Jersey Concussion Law and the Department of Education’s Model Policy regarding Community-based sports?

Generally the Law applies to all public and nonpublic schools in New Jersey and applies to student-athletes in grades K – 12 who play interscholastic sports. The New Jersey Concussion Law primarily focuses on interscholastic sports with the exception that any youth sports team organization (one or more sports teams organized pursuant to a nonprofit or similar charter or which are members teams in a league organized by or affiliated with a county or municipal recreation department) that operates on school grounds must sign a statement of compliance with that school district or nonpublic school’s policies for the management of concussions and other head injuries. This article in the Law provides the youth sports team organization with immunity from liability when they sign the compliance statement; therefore, it is important for owners, managers and coaches to be aware of what the school district’s concussion policy is if the sports organization uses school district fields.

The Model Policy developed by the New Jersey Department of Education expands the Law regarding return to play decisions to include grades K-12 with certain differences for grade levels K-8. It states that “Younger students (K-8) should observe the 7 day rest/recovery period (after they are symptom free at rest) prior to initiating the Graduated return-to-play Protocol” outlined in the Consensus Statement from the International Conferences on Concussion in Sport. The Policy also states that the Graduated return-to-play Protocol should be monitored by a physician trained in the evaluation and management of concussion as well as the parents/guardians of the student-athlete and that school nurses may serve as advocates for communicating signs and symptoms to physicians and parents/guardians.

The key points in the Model Policy pertinent to younger players are as follows:

  1. Model Policy states that in the absence of daily testing by “knowledgeable school district staff to clear a student-athlete to begin the graduated return-to-play protocol, the student-athlete should observe a 7 day rest/recovery period before commencing the protocol.”
  2. The Policy states that “Younger students (K-8) should observe the 7 day rest/recovery period (after they are symptom free at rest) prior to initiating the graduated return-to-play protocol.”
  3. The Policy also states that the return-to-play protocol should be monitored by a physician trained in the evaluation and management of concussion as well as the parents/guardians of the student-athlete.
  4. School nurses may serve as advocates for communicating signs and symptoms to physicians and parents/guardians. Any time there is a re-emergence of symptoms a student-athlete is to be returned to the school/team physician or primary care physician.