Baseline testing is a critical piece of any sports programs' concussion testing protocol. Whether you're an athletic trainer at the high school or college level, or in charge of a youth sports program, baseline testing provides a snapshot of an athlete’s pre-season cognitive function, which is crucial for effective concussion management.
This foundational tool offers invaluable comparative data in case of head injuries, guiding return-to-play decisions. However, its success hinges on correct implementation. In this article, we delve into five pivotal tips to optimize your baseline testing process.
1.) Prioritize Time in Pre-season for Baseline Testing
Conducting baseline tests before the athletic season kicks off is not merely a matter of convention, but one of utmost importance. At the start of a new season, athletes are generally free from the cognitive impacts that can arise from in-game collisions or rigorous training sessions. This fresh, uninfluenced state offers the most genuine representation of their cognitive function at it's absolute best, establishing a clear baseline against which any future changes can be measured.
Conducting baseline tests mid-season or after several workouts might not provide the athlete's best cognitive baseline. By prioritizing and conducting baseline assessments prior to training and practice starting, you can feel confident that you are capturing the athletes true cognitive baseline. At the start of your season or at the first day of practice, block out a window of time to capture your athletes' cognitive baseline. The good news? With mobile cognitive tests like HitCheck baseline tests can be completed in 7-10 minutes, straight from your athlete's mobile phones.
Pro Tip for HitCheck Programs: Require that all of your athletes complete their baseline test at home before the first day of practice. This will keep coaches happy by not cutting into practice time, and also make sure you are capturing your athletes true cognitive baseline prior to any potential head impacts from their sport.
2.) Choose a Flexible Testing Solution
Gone are the days when baseline testing demands a rigidly controlled environment, computer lab or hours of time to establish a baseline. By choosing a mobile solution for your testing and management, it allows your protocol to be more flexible and achievable for your athletes.
Such flexibility doesn't just make testing more convenient; it fundamentally changes its accessibility. Athletes can undergo baseline testing when it fits into their schedules, not when conditions are deemed "perfect" or when your program has the resources and time to conduct the tests. This adaptability ensures that no opportune moments for testing are missed and that players, coaches, and athletic trainers can act swiftly and confidently, leveraging reliable data whenever and wherever they need it.
3.) Educate Athletes on the Importance of Baseline Testing
Understanding the game is essential for an athlete, but understanding one's health and safety transcends it. Baseline testing isn't just another checkbox in the pre-season routine; it's a critical tool that could influence an athlete's entire future in sports and beyond. It's imperative that athletes grasp the significance of these tests.
To achieve this, clear communication is the first step. Educating sessions, where the science behind the tests is broken down in relatable terms, can be impactful. Using real-life scenarios and testimonies can further drive home the importance.
Athletes are more likely to take the testing seriously when they recognize it as a protective measure rather than a mere formality. Regular reminders, possibly through team meetings or even digital channels, can reinforce its importance throughout the season.
By ensuring athletes are well-informed, we not only empower them to be active participants in their health and safety but also bolster the effectiveness and accuracy of the baseline testing process itself.
Pro Tip for HitCheck Programs: To help with educating your athletes, HitCheck has partnered with CrashCourse, to make concussion education interactive and fun. As part of your baseline testing process, encourage or require your athletes to become CrashCourse certified prior to the season so they can understand the signs and symptoms associated with a concussion.
4.) Regularly Update Baseline Tests
As with the ever-evolving nature of sports techniques and strategies, cognitive functions are equally dynamic. An athlete's cognitive baseline isn't static; it's influenced by age, experiences, training, and a multitude of other factors. Recognizing this fluidity is essential to ensure that we always have the most accurate and up-to-date data at our fingertips.
One of the most common questions that we get from athletic trainers is "how often should we baseline test our athletes?" While there is no specific right answer to this age-old question, the medical team at HitCheck strongly recommends conducting a new baseline test every 12 months due to the reasons we listed above. While it might be tempting to rely on a baseline established a couple of years ago, it's crucial to remember that even subtle shifts in cognitive function can occur over a 12-month span.
Establishing a new baseline every year ensures that any post-injury assessments are compared to the most relevant and recent data, enhancing the accuracy of assessments and return-to-play decisions.
5.) Integrate Baseline Testing with Concussion Protocol
Concussion management is a multifaceted approach, demanding a harmony of tools and strategies to ensure athlete safety. Baseline testing, while pivotal, is just one part of this comprehensive approach. Yet, its true potential is unlocked when seamlessly integrated with the broader concussion protocol identified by your team, league or governing body.
Using tools like HitCheck, sports administrators and athletic trainers can effortlessly bridge this integration. The platform not only facilitates accurate baseline testing but also provides administrators with the tools they need to seamlessly conduct post injury tests, monitor symptoms throughout the recovery process and manage large organizations to ensure compliance with their testing and injury protocol.
HitCheck Can Help
In the fast-paced realm of sports, the well-being of athletes remains a top priority. Proper concussion management is foundational to this endeavor, and baseline testing is its cornerstone. To maximize its effectiveness:
Kick off testing in the pre-season: ensuring an untainted cognitive snapshot.
Leverage the adaptability of modern tools: permitting tests in diverse environments.
Empower athletes with knowledge: stressing the test's critical significance.
Update baselines annually: acknowledging the brain's evolving nature.
Seamlessly incorporate testing into a broader concussion protocol: using tools designed for holistic management.
In a world where each second counts, both in the game and in health responses, the right tools make all the difference. Are you ready to increase the effectiveness of your current baseline testing efforts? Connect with us and we'll show you HitCheck can help.