Youth soccer is becoming increasingly popular in the U.S., but concussions in youth soccer players are also on the rise. Soccer is the second leading cause of head injury among female youth athletes. For male youth athletes, soccer is the fifth leading cause of concussions.
What causes concussions in soccer? Are head injuries the result of “heading,” or hitting the ball off the head? Or are there other risks of playing to consider?
In a new study, researchers looked at the number and causes of concussions in a sampling of 100 youth soccer players across the U.S. between 2005 and 2014. There were 627 concussions among female players and 442 among boys.
Surprisingly, most of these concussions were not the result of heading the ball, as one might think. When the ball is properly headed, the neck muscles contract to support the head. However, according to the Concussion Legacy Foundation, attempting to head the ball and colliding with another player or falling is the number one risk of concussions in youth soccer.
Research has shown that over 30 percent of concussions in soccer are caused by heading the ball or by attempting to head the ball and colliding with a player, object or the ground.
Other research also points to physical contact with another player, such as elbows and shoulders to the head, as a leading cause of concussions in youth soccer players. Other frequent causes of concussions in soccer players include collisions with goalposts, or falls where the player’s head hits the ground.
How can concussions be effectively reduced among soccer players, particularly youth players? Perhaps the most effective way is to enforce rules against rough play. Soccer isn’t as physical as other sports like football, and according to FIFA, only shoulder-to-shoulder contact is permitted, yet the sport has become more of a contact sport as it has become more popular over the years.
In an effort to make soccer safer for all players, many are calling for stricter rules on body contact, and the Safer Soccer campaign by the Concussion Legacy Foundation is calling for a ban on heading by players younger than 14 by 2017.
What can you do to keep your kids safe in soccer? The first step is to ensure your child plays for a coach who does not encourage physicality in the sport, but rather pushes athletes to build their technical skills. Seek out a coach who does not encourage or allow heading for younger players, and be sure your child receives proper training on how to head the ball in later teenage years.
The effects of concussions can be devastating and long lasting. While physical activity is important for youth of all ages, it is equally important that parents and coaches be educated on the risks certain sports and activities pose to children.