Thursday, May 10, 2012

How Worried Should We Be About Soccer Players & Concussions? Should Heading in Soccer Be Banned?

Are they trying to panic us, these experts who are telling us that girls who play soccer rank second behind boys who play football when it comes to the number of concussions they sustain? Brian Williams' primetime news show Rock Center ran two long segments on NBC the other night asserting that girls with long, thin necks are especially susceptible to concussions on the soccer field. They even go as far to label concussions a "crisis" in girls' soccer.

"The number of girls suffering concussions in soccer accounts for the second largest amount of all concussions reported by young athletes, according to the American Journal of Sports Medicine," NBC reported. "Football tops the list."

They quoted the director of sports medicine at a Massachusetts hospital, neurosurgeon Dr. Bob Cantu as saying:

"What's happening in this country is an epidemic of concussions, number one, and the realization that many of these individuals are going to go on to post-concussion syndrome, which can alter their ability to function at a high level for the rest of their lives."

So what does this mean for our soccer playing daughters, and our sons for that matter? For my 13-year-old daughter who idolizes Abby Wambach and Mia Hamm? We know that participating in sports is extremely beneficial for girls, so what are sports parents supposed to do with this scary information?

Dr. Cantu recommends banning heading in soccer for athletes 14 and younger. I'm very cool with that. (I cringe every time a kids' head makes contact with a soccer ball.) He also suggests that if girls have "very long, thin necks" they should go through a "neck strengthening program if they're playing a collision sport." Say what now? What's a neck strengthening program? Shouldn't youth soccer leagues be made aware of these things and implement them, maybe get pediatricians on board?

I've already informed my two soccer resident players, much to their horror, that I don't want them heading the soccer ball any more. (My son went bananas and said my irrational dictate would be responsible for him getting kicked off his recreational soccer team, something echoed by a female soccer player in the NBC interview). Other than banning heading and promoting neck strengthening exercises, about which I'm still unclear, what else are we supposed to do?

The NBC reporter Kate Snow and the Rock Center host Brian Williams have had or do have children who play soccer and didn't have many suggestions except for parents to be on the look out for symptoms of concussions. "We're not down on soccer," Snow said. ". . . If something looks wrong . . . take the kid out of the game, wait it out. It's better to be safe than sorry."

Here's the link to the Centers for Disease Control page on concussions, including the symptoms for which parents of youth athletes are supposed to look.

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