Concussion awareness has greatly increased in all sports over the past few years. In soccer, where the act of heading the ball is an integral part of the game, the discussion has been going on a bit longer. Yet, youth soccer could be said to be behind the other sports in terms of developing and implementing guidelines for recognizing and diagnosing concussions. Years ago medical studies on retired professionals indicated a heightened level of brain damage that was immediately (and not very scientifically) attributed to heading the ball. Moreover, many people rushed to conclude that heading itself posed a risk to youth players based on a study of people who played and trained professionally over the course of decades. The science wasn’t and still isn’t there to support such an inference. However, it does highlight the need for awareness.
Most head injuries in soccer occur from collisions between players or between players and objects such as the goal post. While we certainly should make sure coaches are teaching heading properly, our focus in a risk management area would look at the more likely causes of concussion, and establish a framework for managing concussion injuries. What guidelines do you have in place for your club?
A few points to remember:
1. Concussions often occur with no loss of consciousness
2. Symptoms include a change in level of alertness, confusion, vomiting and extreme sleepiness
3. Players showing symptoms of a concussion should not be returned to the game and should be seen in an ER immediately
4. A player is not ready to resume competition just because symptoms have subsided. Doctors will often recommend several weeks of no physical activity after the symptoms end.
5. Risk of permanent brain injury increases with successive concussions.
A concussion awareness plan should provide for (a) medical evaluation; (b) return to activity guidelines; and (c) tracking of prior head injuries. At all times, be guided by the medical recommendations, not the subjective feelings of the player or parent. Concussion awareness should be part of your volunteer training program.
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