Soccer Helmets—Necessary Protection or An Overreaction?
Sitting in the stands, watching my daughter's soccer game this past weekend, I overheard a high school soccer player describing the injuries she and her teammates had suffered throughout the season. According to this player, over half her team had been injured this fall, with most injuries involving knees and ankles but also including some seriousconcussions that had landed girls in the hospital and rendered at least one of them unconscious for 20 minutes. Now, thanks to the efforts of the Brain Injury Association of Washington and others, we as parents in the State of Washington are much better informed these days about the risks of concussions, signs and symptoms of brain injury and the importance of obtaining a medical clearance to play sports again after suffering a head injury. Listening to the high school athlete's description of how aggressive and rough the sport of soccer has become, and watching my daughter's own vulnerable, un-helmeted head bob down the field, I had to wonder "Why aren't we helmeting these kids?"
A quick google search taught me that soccer helmets are, in fact, a product that is currently manufactured and sold in the United States. My research also taught me that the most common cause of concussions in soccer players (according to a Duke University study) was when one player's head struck the head of another player. This was also the most common source of concussions in a group of soccer players at the US Olympic Sport Festival in 1993. The second most common cause of concussions occurred when a ball struck a player's head. These head-to-ball concussions happened when a player was hit in the head by a ball kicked from close range. In many cases, the ball traveled so quickly the player did not have time to react. None of the concussions were caused by proper heading of the ball. So, while training soccer players to properly head the ball is critical, it is not preventative of concussions. It also appeared from my research that, well, not enough research has been done to establish whether the helmets currently available are effective in preventing or at least decreasing the incidence of soccer-related concussive injuries.
When I look at the evolution of such contact sports as football and hockey, I would note that those uniforms originally did not require the use of a helmet. The need for helmets was identified, however, as players suffered and the need was identified. As we learn more about the long-term consequences of brain injuries suffered by athletes, and as we learn more about the increasingly aggressive nature of soccer as its own contact sport, I would suggest that we give careful consideration to protecting our players and their futures with specifically-designed soccer helmets. This suggestion, I understand, is not without controversy. Some might suggest that I am overreacting, over-protective. Maybe we need to focus on coaching our kids on their technique and skills to play the game cleaner.
What do you think?