Coping strategies used by varsity athletes with a concussion


More than 85% of concussions in individuals between the ages of 16-34 are sports-related (Gordon, Dooley, & Wood, 2006).  Concussions are associated with somatic, cognitive, or emotional symptoms and negatively affect the health and quality of life of injured athletes (McCrory et al., 2013).  The use of effective coping strategies has been investigated in non-concussed injured athletes (Johnston & Carroll, 2000; Udry, Gould, Bridges, & Beck, 1997) and individuals with concussions (Borg, Holm, Peloso, & Cassidy, 2004; Azulay, Smart, Mott, & Cicierone, 2013).  However, little research has investigated the coping strategies used by athletes following concussions.  Therefore, this study aims to understand varsity athletes’ experiences of sustaining a concussion and how varsity athletes cope with the effects of concussions.  We conducted semi-structured interviews (ranging from 45-70 min, M = 55 min.) with five university varsity athletes (2 male, 3 female, M age = 21) from team and individual sports who sustained a sport-related concussion.  Data were analyzed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (Smith, Flowers & Larkin, 2009).  Results indicated that after their concussion participants felt removed from all aspects of their life: academics, sport and social.  They experienced emotional distress during their gradual return to school and activity.  Athletes used social support, emotion focused coping strategies and problem focused coping strategies to facilitate their recovery.  Athletes discussed advice they would provide to a fellow varsity athlete with a concussion, including being honest with yourself and your medical staff, and surrounding yourself with a strong social support system.  This research addresses some of the challenges associated with following a step-wise return to sport/school protocol and some of the coping strategies that may facilitate varsity athletes’ rehabilitation process.   Keywords: concussed athlete, recovery, social support, phenomenological, qualitative