With athletes of all ages taking to fields and courts, there are important steps to take in keeping young athletes safe during practice and games.
Data from U.S. Youth Soccer shows that the number of kids playing increased nearly 90 percent – with nearly 3 million children ages 7-17 playing each year — from 1990 to 2014. As soccer has risen in popularity, so has the rate on injuries — especially concussions — according to a Nationwide Children’s Hospital study published recently in “Pediatrics.”
The number of youth treated in emergency rooms in the United States due to soccer-related injuries increased by 78 percent over the 25 years covered by the study. While concussions and other “closed-head” injuries accounted for just 7 percent of those injuries, the annual rate of those injuries per 10,000 children playing soccer increased drastically.
While the study’s authors from the hospital’s Center for Injury Research and Policy said some of the increase reflects the growing awareness about concussions, there are steps that can be taken to reduce exposure and increase overall player safety.
Be aware of concussion symptoms and encourage players to report potential injuries. The first signs of a player potentially suffering from a serious head injury can include:
Noise or light sensitivity
Utilize Available Educational Resources
The National Soccer Coaches Association of America recently released the first interactive online course developed to educate soccer coaches on how to teach safer heading techniques. The free, 30-minute course titled “Get aHEAD Safely in Soccer,” which is available at NSCAA.com/heading, illustrates specific techniques, exercises and practice activities that are available for coaches to download or print. For more tips to properly coach young athletes on the fundamentals of heading and other soccer skills, visit nscaa.com.
Practice Proper Technique
The U.S Soccer Federation recently ruled that there should be no heading in games or practice for any players age 10 and under and a limited amount of heading for those ages 11-13. It is important that coaches know the correct techniques and have the right educational tools to properly train their players. The fundamental steps include:
Keeping feet shoulder-width apart and knees bent in an athletic position
Tucking the chin and maintaining a stiff neck
Using arms for balance (and to shield opponents)
Concentrating with eyes open and mouth closed
Focusing on striking the ball with the middle of the forehead
Understand Return-to-Play Protocol
Coaches and parents should encourage players to always report blows to the head and be vigilant in looking for athletes who may have sustained injuries.
If a player does sustain a concussion, they should seek medical attention and work together with an athletic trainer on proper return-to-play protocol before returning to competition.
By instituting proper athletic safety measures at the youth level, coaches, parents and athletes can continue to enjoy the positive benefits of sports.