Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Be prepared and know how to react quickly.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) is the leading cause of death for youth and teen athletes during exercise. Many athletes who suffer from SCA on the field show no warning symptoms. Knowing how to react when a cardiac event occurs is crucial. Ensure your organization is equipped with AEDs and proper training in order to react quickly when an incident occurs.


Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) is not the same as a heart attack

  • SCA is the result of a structural or electrical disorder in the heart that can lead to a potentially lethal arrhythmia.
  • Oftentimes, the first sign of potential cardiac arrest is collapse during exercise.
  • Properly trained staff and an AED onsite can greatly reduce tragic outcomes when SCA occurs.
  • Early defibrillation dramatically improves survival rates. Survival rates as high as 89 percent have been achieved in student-athletes when defibrillation is provided within three minutes of collapse.*

  • *Source: Drezner J, Toresdahl B, Rao A, Huszti E, Harmon K. Outcomes from Sudden Cardiac Arrest in U.S. High Schools: A Two-Year Prospective Study from the National Registry for AED Use in Sports. Br J Sports Med. 2013;47(18):1179-83.


Remember, many SCA cases occur with no outright warning signs. That is why any player who collapses and is unresponsive should be considered in cardiac arrest until proven otherwise. Here’s what to look for on and off the field.

A collapsed and unresponsive athlete - especially without any recent trauma.

Brief, seizure-like movements in the arm and legs – 50 percent of athletes with SCA will display these types of motions.

Also be aware of warning symptoms of a current heart condition (chest pain with exercise, racing heart – when it shouldn’t, passing out with exercise, shortness of breath or fatigue, a family history of heart conditions or SCA before the age of 50).


Know the location of AEDs at practice and game fields.

Have a way to call 9-1-1 in case of an emergency during football activities; if cell availability is bad in your area, know where to reach stronger service.

Make sure trainers and coaches are trained in CPR and AED use and can recognize SCA symptoms.

Define emergency routes to practice and game facilities.

Assign key staff to meet and direct emergency responders.

Designate personnel to stay with the athlete on the way to the hospital in case a parent or guardian is not present.

Choose a coach to organize and remove the rest of the team from the injury site.

Have player/parent phone numbers available and a point person to contact the parents if one is not present.

Acquire AEDs to have onsite during games and practices.


Coaches who take USA Football’s youth coach certification will learn about SCA and more.