In the distance, you hear a faint ring. You turn to see the source of the noise, but this causes your stomach to lurch. The world spins around you as your head throbs with pain. You stumble towards what you thought was your sideline, only to discover it belongs to the opposing team.
This is what a concussion feels like for thousands of athletes across the United States.
The University of Florida is offering a new resource to sport club athletes this year called ImPACT, which stands for Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing. It is combatting concussions at UF on the sport club level.
UF’s Department of Recreational Sports, more commonly known as Rec Sports, sponsors organizations called sport club teams. These student-run teams range from paintball to soccer. Rec Sports offers over 40 sport club teams.
Sport club teams are considered above the skill and commitment level of an intramural team but below that of being a division one college athlete,
These teams travel and compete against other university and college teams across the United States. Some teams have a coach or coaches and some are completely student-run.
“They find a ton of pride in what they do,” said Kelsey Jones, a Graduate Assistant for Competitive Sports at Rec Sports, “Our sport clubs are so dedicated to what they do.”
According to Jones, sport clubs receive funding for travel, entry fees, equipment and other possible operation expenses. This funding is separate from the health and safety services provided by Rec Sports.
Rec Sports has athletic trainers that can be made available for sport club events at UF. There is a supervisor present at all home sport club events trained in CPR and first-aid in the event of an emergency.
“Our events are divided into high-risk and low-risk sports,” said Katelyn Peterson, Coordinator of Athletic Training at Rec Sports, “At each of our high-risk home events we are required to have one athletic trainer at it at least. Low and medium-risk [sport clubs] can request us to come in.”
Peterson explained that a variety of factors play into what determines whether or not a sport is high-risk or low-risk. Such factors can include the playing surface and the risk of injury caused by another player or object.
Originally the concussion test was only required of high-risk sport clubs, now it is offered to all sports clubs interested in testing its athletes.
Often Rec Sports will also reference the National Athletic Trainers’ Association studies to determine the risk of sport.
“We approach [for example] rugby differently versus another sport because we know the chances of somebody getting injured or sustaining a concussion while playing rugby is significantly higher,” said Peterson.
However, player concussions can go undiagnosed. Sometimes a player could be unaware of the signs or simply try to hide symptoms to avoid missing playing time. An athlete playing with a concussion is one of the most dangerous situations that can occur on the field.
That is where ImPACT testing comes into play.
“The ImPACT test is basically a computerized neurocognitive test that tests the athlete’s different levels of cognitive ability. It [tests] reaction time, short-term [and] long-term memory, recall and stuff like that,” said Peterson.
According to ImPACT’s website, their services are used by more than 7,400 high schools, 1,000 colleges and universities, and 200 professional teams. This is UF and Rec Sports’ first year implementing the testing
Athletes and sport clubs can come in at the beginning of the season and take a baseline test. If an athlete sustains a concussion later on, then they can take a post-injury test.
“It tests a lot of different areas so that we can utilize the test to check people’s cognitive levels before and after a concussion and the skills on the side that are taught so we can get the physical side,” said Peterson, “We do a combination of these things to get a good viewpoint of that person.”
These tests along with traditional physical concussion evaluations performed by an athletic trainer or doctor are used to treat an athlete. Many programs and organizations use the test as a tool after a concussion to determine if an athlete has fully recovered and can safely return to play.
Matthew Lange, a third-year student and midfielder for the UF men’s lacrosse sport club steam, took the ImPACT test alongside his teammates at the beginning of the season.
“The test started with it presenting some symptoms of a concussion. It was really cool because a lot of players were like ‘Hey, I felt symptoms similar to that before, I didn’t realize that these were some of the symptoms of a concussion,” said Lange.
Lange is one of over 200 sport club athletes tested so far at the University of Florida. The ImPACT test has already seen real world implications.
“One of our better players took a helmet-to-helmet…he had suffered a concussion and because of information we had our senior players were able to help him right there on the field…” Lange said, “He was able to take care of himself and get [back] on the field quicker because of the information that we picked up.”
The aforementioned player was later taken to a local hospital and evaluated. He was diagnosed with a concussion, made a full recovery and returned to play two weeks later.
The entire process takes approximately an hour. That one hour could be critical in returning an athlete to the field quickly and safely.
“It [the test] is an hour that benefits your whole team or organization,” said Lange.