Although, we’ve discovered that the biggest cause of head injuries are not sports, but unexpected falls, that doesn’t mean parents and soccer organizations across the US aren’t implementing strategies to ensure that youth players aren’t needlessly risking their long-term health.
The problem isn’t as simple as just “ban headers” though, unfortunately. While studies are showing that consistent, repetitive hits to the head do make you three times more vulnerable to concussions, many concussions occur due to player to player contact, which is already against the rules.
Still there are strategies, particularly at the youth level, that can be implemented to help reduce the risk of concussions or head injuries.
Still a current issue, the first heading regulations in US Club youth soccer were actually issued in the Fall of 2015. All youth soccer players brought through the US Soccer sanctioned programs are banned from heading the ball in any games youth age 10 and under.
Given that players that young still have over 10 years of mental development in front of them, it’s a guideline that all youth leagues should seriously considering adopting.
Mandatory Time-Limits for Recovery
One of the grey areas surrounding concussions is “how much time is enough” when it comes to recovery. Studies have shown that males between the ages of 11-18 typically recover fully within three weeks, compared to only 42 percent of their female peers.
Players that return to full-contact or competition early risk suffering an even more serve second concussion. Schools and clubs should consider implementing a mandatory time-limit for recovery of at least two weeks in order to best protect players from serious harm. Of course, all players should be medically cleared prior to return to practice or competition. Players returning to competition or play on the same day that they received a serious knock or head injury should be outlawed entirely.
Schools at all levels have stepped up in adopting a zero-tolerance policy towards concussions. For example, the athletic trainers at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, TX sit players the moment they say they are having any sort of “headache” symptoms due to collision or contact.
There’s no debate: if not a zero-tolerance policy, schools and youth clubs need a concussion response protocol to ensure players, no matter their importance to their team or game, are properly evaluated and benched when they fail to pass an evaluation.
Remember, you’ve got a say in this too
As a parent or coach, or sometimes both, if the league your young athlete is playing in won’t adopt any of these strategies as a whole, implement them for your child and hold to them. There is no moment in a soccer game for kids who are ten years old and under that is worth needlessly risking a serious head injury.
Be confident in doing what’s right to protect your young athlete, even if it means being ahead of the curve when it comes to your personal league.
Has your child’s league implemented any of these strategies? Have the number of concussions gone down? Let us know it the comments, we’d love to hear how your soccer community is tackling this complex issue!