By Vicki Little
The big injuries don’t always come with a tackle that knocks the breath out of a football player or a missed bar that breaks the arm of a gymnast. The risk of a concussion, in ANY sport, is fairly high. When it happens, it isn’t always as noticeable as you might expect.
One sport in particular has recently responded to growing concerns about concussions and changed its safety guidelines to minimize injury risk to those young brains: soccer. In February, the American Youth Soccer Organization announced a change to its rules and regulations that impact ball “headers” in youth soccer. Unique to soccer, heading is when the player uses his head to control an airborne ball. This gives players with this particular skill an advantage since players are not allowed to use their hands to control an airborne ball.
There is plenty of concern surrounding heading in soccer and its potential for brain injuries. Heading is a very particular skill that needs to be done with a level of precision to be effective. Hitting the ball at the wrong angle, on the wrong part of the head, or even hitting another person who is going in with the same intent can all cause minor or major injuries to the brain. Further, it isn’t just one instance of contact that is of concern. Repeated exposure of the skull to the ball over time can cause just as much damage as one ill-placed jolt. CTE, or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain that is associated with injuries such as those incurred while heading in soccer, and it can impact the brain for years after a player ends his or her career. CTE is associated with memory loss, confusion, impaired judgement, aggression, depression, and impulse-control problems.
Heading was already banned for any division under 10 years of age, and the new rule bans heading for all U-11 (or U-12 if the program doesn’t have single age divisions) players. For players 12-13, heading will be limited to practice only and to a maximum of 30 minutes per week with no more than 15-20 headers per player. If a player does intentionally make contact with the ball using their head, an indirect free kick will be awarded to the opposing team. After the age of 14, there are no longer restrictions on heading in matches.
Common symptoms of a concussion are:
- being a bit hazy or forgetful
- blurry vision
- losing consciousness (for ANY length of time)
- being clumsy
If you suspect that your child may have a concussion, no matter how mild, have them evaluated by their doctor as soon as possible. You can find more information on concussions on the AYSO website.
Vicki Little is a work-at-home mom with two young kids. A Colorado native, she is the Publisher and Editor of Macaroni Kid Aurora and Downtown Denver. When she isn’t writing or trying to keep up with her kids she can be found volunteering, reading, or enjoying a bottle of wine with friends.
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