Youth Soccer Study: Girls Suffer More Concussions Than Boys
There are more concussions among girl youth soccer players than boys in the United States – and most are caused by physical contact with another player rather than heading the ball, according to a new study.
Heading was linked to a third of concussions in high school soccer, say University of Colorado-Denver researchers.
The study sampled 100 high schools across the country to calculate the number and cause of head injuries between 2005 and 2014.
The result throws a new wrinkle into the ongoing debate about whether heading should be discouraged among youth players, particularly those under age 14 with brains that are still developing.
In the 100 schools surveyed there were 627 concussions among girls and 442 among boys.
About 52% of concussions in girls and 69% in boys were because of physical contact between players - in many cases, elbows and shoulders hitting the head. About 10% of overall concussions were due to soccer activities such as defending, goalkeeping and chasing loose balls.
For every 10,000 "athlete exposures" - a student participating in a soccer game or practice - there were 4.5 concussions among girls and 2.8 among boys. The number increased over the nine-year survey period, although the concussion rate during competitive play among girls dropped in the most recent season.
Researchers believe maybe girl players’ necks are thinner than boys and consequently less able to soften the force of a hit to the head or they are more ready to speak up if they feel pain or concussion symptoms. Either way, it is a worrying trend that merits further study.
Soccer is now the second leading cause of head injury among female athletes, while for boys it’s the fifth leading cause.
Among the most common symptoms for both were memory loss, sleepiness and irritability.
Up until now, controversy about concussions and possible brain injuries in youth soccer has revolved largely around heading. The study suggests the conversation should be widened to consider toughening up the enforcement of rules against rough play.
“Although banning heading from youth soccer would likely prevent some concussions, reducing athlete-athlete contact across all phases of play would likely be a more effective way to prevent concussions as well as other injuries,” concludes the study.
"There has been a discussion in the soccer world for the last year or so about how to lower the rates of concussions, like in every other sport," Sarah K. Fields, an associate professor of communication at the University of Colorado-Denver and an author of the paper, told CNN.
"If we can enforce the rules and minimize player-to-player contact, that could get rid of 60% of concussions, plus that would reduce other injuries," such as sprained ankles and wrists and torn ligaments, Fields added.
She said there has been “pushback” from some soccer leagues at the idea of cracking down more on rougher players.
"They don't think contact can be ratcheted down. I disagree because I've played (in an amateur soccer league) for 40 years, and I've watched the game change (and) become safer for the lower body.”
Cal South, with nearly 220,000 members and 12,500 teams in Southern California, decided in February to demand that all coaches, assistant coaches, team managers, DOCs and certified athletic trainers must now complete a head injury/concussion training and certification process. Players suspected of concussion must be removed from games immediately and sidelined until they are given a clean bill of health by a neurologist or expert health care provider.
Cal South, like most people running our youth game, understands that safety is paramount.
Nobody is seriously suggesting soccer should become a non-contact sport but it has undoubtedly become a faster, more skillful game at all levels. Perhaps we should be looking harder at the rules and enforcing them more strictly, particularly at corners or other situations where there is bound to be close contact.
Anything that cuts down on the number of concussions for girls and boys has got to be a move in the right direction.