Concussion to Classroom: Post-Concussion Academic Reintegration of Collegiate Club Sports Athletes

Sports-related concussions have raised great interest and concern as a significant worldwide health issue. This phenomenological case study gathered the personal perspectives of college club sports athletes at a western four-year public university about their recovery and rehabilitation post-concussion. This rarely studied yet growing population of student-athletes shared details about the challenges they faced during the transition from concussion injury to the classroom. Ten athletes from high impact sports of soccer, rugby, ice hockey, and wrestling participated in this qualitative study. In addition, four interviews with on campus service providers and a review of documents related to the processes of Return to Play and Return to Learn, brought context to the accessibility of resources for these students. Two theoretical frameworks were combined in the design of the study and data analysis, transition theory and resiliency. Schlossberg’s Transition Theory and its 4S factors of self, situation, support, and strategy assisted in the analysis of how club athletes coped with unexpected changes in their daily life. Resiliency was utilized to explore how students drew upon external and internal resources in a positive manner when coping with adversity. The study revealed that although campus resources were accessible, most of the student-athletes did not seek formal academic support unless it potentially impacted their grades. Underutilized support included accommodations offered through the Disability Resource Center. Many research participants considered their brain injury “no big deal” and developed compensatory strategies to keep up with the responsibilities and expectations of student life. Post injury procedures focused more on return to play and less on return to learn. However, participants expressed difficulties with attention, memory, information processing, and organization. A more integrated approach is recommended which monitors physical and cognitive demands plus behavioral and sleep concerns during return to school and sport. A recommended pathway for incorporating post-concussion support and strategies during the transition from injury to the classroom is provided along with a list of suggested learning strategies. Overall, the research highlighted the need for more concussion education, opportunities for inter-professional collaboration, and the potential of an inter-professional alliance on college campuses for this multifaceted health issue.