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Give Concussion the Red Card

Kaitlyn Cook goes up for the header against CSU Bakersfield at the U.S. Air Force Academy's Cadet Soccer Stadium in Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Air Force photo by Mike Kaplan)

Hey parents! Got a striker, midfielder, defender or keeper in your family? Do you know what hand ball, offside, corner and bicycle kick mean? Do you follow developments in goal line technology? Have you been heard to shout “All ball!” or “Advantage!” at the referee?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, I’m guessing you’re a soccer mom or dad, or a soccer player yourself! You may know about injuries such as torn ligaments and pulled hamstrings. But whether your athlete is a newbie or dreams of making it to the World Cup one day, you should also add traumatic brain injury (TBI) to your vocabulary.

As soccer gains popularity in the United States and awareness of TBI grows, more eyes are on this potentially serious injury. Mild TBI, also known as concussion, is especially common among girls. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, “females participating in high school sports now have a higher incidence rate of sport-related concussions than do males.”

A TBI is a blow or jolt to the head that disrupts the normal functioning of the brain. It can cause loss of consciousness for a brief or extended period of time, or make one feel confused or “see stars.” The injury can be mild, moderate, severe or penetrating, but most TBIs are concussions. Traumatic brain injury symptoms can be physical (headaches, dizziness), cognitive (problems with memory or concentration) or emotional (irritability or mood swings).

Sometimes just heading a soccer ball is enough to cause a concussion. However, concussions can also be the result of contact with other players, such as butting heads while trying to head a ball or getting kicked in the head.

You may not be able to prevent all soccer-related concussions. However, you can be prepared to manage them effectively when they occur:

Learn about TBI

Educate yourself, your children and other parents about the warning signs and symptoms of TBI. Learn the medical protocols for injured players so you can ensure they’re being followed: for example, a player with a possible concussion should never go back into the game. An online course about concussion and protocols in youth soccer is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) HEADS UP brain injury awareness program.

Be prepared

Make sure that your child’s coach has received TBI training, including how to recognize it and what to do if a player might have a concussion. Have your child undergo baseline concussion screening, a pre-season exam conducted by a trained health care professional that assesses an athlete’s balance and brain function, including: learning and memory skills, ability to pay attention or concentrate, and the speed with which he or she thinks and solves problems. If a concussion is later suspected, doctors can confirm or rule it out by comparing the results from the baseline test with those from a new test. You can learn more about baseline testing for athletes from CDC HEADS UP brain injury website.

Be proactive

Take action before your child gets a concussion. Keep abreast of developments in TBI prevention for soccer players by following organizations such as U.S. Soccer, U.S. Youth Soccer and world soccer’s governing body, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), which will meet with top international sports organizations later this year in Berlin for the “5th International Consensus Conference on Concussion in Sport.” Make sure your team’s coach and manager have access to players’ baseline screenings at matches. Finally, if your child might have a concussion, promptly seek treatment from a health care professional with experience assessing brain injuries, such as an emergency room doctor.

I hope these tips are helpful and that you and your children, like me and mine, will enjoy watching and playing the beautiful game of “football” for many years to come!

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This page was last updated on: May 1, 2017.