San Diego Flash player Connor Hearn (4) suffered a head injury during a game against Sonoma Sol. Photo Credit: Aaron Jaffe
Youth Soccer News: Heads Up in Youth Soccer - Awareness of Concussions in Grows
Years ago, the majority of people never discussed concussions in soccer. Today is different. Players in highly competitive soccer games wear protective headgear to minimize the threat and parents discuss information about concussions on the sidelines. We still have a long way to go and the subject is controversial but the one position everyone agrees on is educating parent, players and coaches is key to reducing the effects of concussions in youth sports.
For years the danger of injuries in soccer focused primarily on the legs – particularly the knees and ACL injuries. This is only natural in a sport that thrives on kicking the ball, as well as quick starts and stops and fast changes of direction. But awareness of another, more serious injury in soccer has been growing over the past years – concussion. This growing awareness has seen the creation of guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and investigative reports by major news media.
A number of states, including New York, Texas and Alabama, have passed laws that either require or encourage coaches to be trained in concussion management and that detail steps that need to be taken before allowing a youth player back on the field after a concussion.
While some have questioned whether these laws go far enough to protect young athletes, the fact that they have been passed is a sign that people are taking concussions seriously.
In Southern California, new guidelines have been established for the mandatory coaching curiculum which now includes concussion awareness.
Recent studies have shown that the rate of concussions has increased in high school sports, with the rates ranging between 17 and 19.2 per 100,000 athletic exposures (one athlete participating in one organized practice or competition) for boys’ soccer to between 33 and 35 for girls’ soccer. In fact, girls’ soccer has the second highest rate of concussions, behind football.
This awareness has also led to new partnerships, such as one between Inova Loudoun Hospital in Leesburg, Virginia, and Loudoun Soccer, Virginia’s largest youth soccer program. This partnership provides training for coaches in several health-related areas, including concussion awareness. The hospital has also committed to providing first aid kits for the teams in the event of minor injuries at practices or games. In addition, the hospital’s mobile health unit will be on site at several Loudoun Soccer events over the year.
This growing acknowledgement that concussions are a serious risk for young athletes can only be positive. For too long, having your “bell rung” was considered just an inevitable hazard of playing any sport. Parents, coaches and players are now realizing that these injuries can have long-lasting effects that go beyond the field of play and into the rest of life.
One high-profile adult example of this is former professional player Taylor Twellman, who suffered a serious concussion in 2008 after he was hit in the jaw by accident while heading in a shot for a goal. Although he finished out the season, he was forced to retire at age 28 in 2009 because of the long-term effects.
The lesson that everyone should take away from this is that any head injury can have serious consequences. A player does not have to lose consciousness to suffer a concussion. And while some medical experts advocate banning heading to reduce the incidence of head traumas, the fact remains that the majority of concussions come from player-to-player or player-to-object (ground, goal post) contact. (Player-to-object concussions occur in the younger age brackets while player-to-player injuries are more prevelant in older and adult ages.)
Players at the 2012 Surf Cup wearing Full90 protective headgear
More research has been performed documenting female player injuries than male however this provokes the question, "How many boys and men are quick to admit they got hurt, especially when no blood is visible?” It is important that parents and coaches are proactive in protecting youth soccer players, particularly young male players who might not have the wisdom to speak up after a head impact.
More in-depth and long-term studies need to be done to better understand the effects of concussions and the best methods for treatment. Until then, coaches and parents need to take the lead in being aware of the signs of a possible concussion and the appropriate response in case of a head injury. Some players at both the youth and professional levels are now using protective headgear to reduce the impact from collisions, and while these may be helpful there is still controversy over their effectiveness.
For more information about concussions and concussion awareness, visit the CDC’s Concussion in Sports page.