Skip to Main Content

Key Terms

Acute stress disorder

Cognitive-behavioral therapy

Compassion fatigue

Crisis interventions

Critical incident stress debriefing



Post-traumatic stress disorder


Psychological debriefings

Psychological emergency response team

Psychological trauma



Trauma intervention



A group of athletes is participating in conditioning drills on an outdoor field when one player collapses. Teammates assist the fallen athlete to the sideline, and you, as the athletic trainer on duty, immediately rush to his aid. Although initially alert, the athlete becomes unresponsive.You check all vitals and find that the player is not breathing and has no pulse. Emergency personnel are summoned, but the player fails to respond to cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or the use of an automatic external defibrillator (AED). He is pronounced dead after being transported to a local hospital, with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy eventually identified as the cause of death.The player’s teammates are shocked, upset, and confused over what has happened, but the athletes who assisted the fallen player are finding the situation even more difficult to bear. Over the next few days, these individuals have difficulty blocking out thoughts and images of what happened that day and are uncomfortable around the team, the coaching staff, and the practice facility.Their discomfort is also starting to interfere with their ability to concentrate in class and at practice.You are unsure how to help the team respond to this tragedy, and you are questioning whether you own reactions are “normal,”given the situation. How should you and other medical staff respond?


Throughout this text, the authors have addressed the medical and physical aspects of emergency situations in sports, but what can be done about the emotional and psychological components of severe injuries, emergency situations, or other tragic events that can happen in sports? To what degree should we expect athletes to experience negative psychological effects as a result of catastrophic events that occur during sports, and to what degree can athletic trainers or medical support staff provide assistance? In addition to answering these questions, this chapter will also seek to provide an understanding of what constitutes psychological “trauma” and how it occurs in an athletic environment. As with the medical treatment of emergency situations, the psychological aspects of critical incidents require a specific mode of response. Given the inherent closeness that most athletic trainers and other medical personnel share with the athletes under their care, it behooves all who work in the field to have an understanding of what to expect cognitively and emotionally from athletes who have suffered major injuries and/or have witnessed other players experience serious threats to their body, their physical well-being, and their athletic careers.


Pop-up div Successfully Displayed

This div only appears when the trigger link is hovered over. Otherwise it is hidden from view.