Concussion in Sport – heading the ball in youth soccer
Part 2 of Concussion in Sport. You can read Part 1 here.
PART 2 OF: “HEAD THE BALL…THE BALL ISN’T GOING TO HURT YOU” OR “SHAKE IT OFF, YOU’LL BE FINE”
Over recent years there have been an increasing level of attention and focused placed upon the sports-related traumatic brain injury, particularly surrounding concussion. Since the overwhelming attention, surrounding “concussion” an increase frequency of occurrences within contact sports are reported  Approximately, 1.6 to 3.8 million sports-related concussions occur annually in the United States, alone. Most reported sport-related head injuries are thought to be minor, with a high number of individuals recovering within a few days to weeks depending on the severity of the injury. Presently, a small percentage of individuals, unfortunately, develop long-term and/or progressive symptoms. Nevertheless, with such exposure, research and science, the number of long-term and/or progressive symptoms in individuals are on the rise, due to doctors, medical staff and practitioners having an increased level of understanding and identification measures around such complex condition.
More specifically to soccer, there has been a growing awareness of the dangers and connection between head injuries and young soccer players whilst attempting to heading the ball. Such examples of concussion in soccer are reported to have found and diagnosed a 23-year-old amateur soccer player who regularly “headed” the ball while playing, had mild changes of CTE and had a history of a single severe head injury. Barnes et al., (1998) found that almost 50% of a sample reported concussion-like symptoms (headache, dizziness, balance problems) after heading a soccer ball, similar to post-concussion reports from adolescents and Olympic soccer athletes.
With such research and increased level of knowledge surrounding concussion, the US Soccer federation have decided to take drastic steps towards “heading” within youth soccer. Where they aim to potentially eliminate “heading the soccer ball” for children 10 and under, and limiting the amount of heading in practice for children between the ages of 11 and 14 (US Soccer, 2015). Such decision can be debated across the sport by many parents, coaches, spectators, and organizations. In contrast, the “Sports Legacy Institute (SLI)” and Dr. Frank Webbe recommends a ban on heading before age 14, while we wait for more research to clarify [that] risk. Dr. Frank Webbe quoted “sufficient evidence that concussions and heading are highly correlated and anything we can do within the confines of the sport to decrease concussions should be done.”
Many practitioners propose that we currently have enough sufficient and concise scientific evidence that heading the soccer ball “will result in more concussions. Despite such overwhelming scientific research and knowledge, on the contrary, many practitioners disagree with the totally eliminating heading, practitioners state that a ban on heading most likely isn’t the most effective prevention of decreasing concussions within in youth soccer. (Comstock, et al 2015) questions If any soccer organization want to significantly reduce concussions in youth soccer, do we need to ban heading altogether, or would we be successful if rules prohibiting athlete-athlete contact during heading were enacted and strictly enforced?”
In a “Concussion” study conducted by Comstock, et al (2015) within high school soccer, the activity of “Heading” that is simultaneously related to concussion, the study found that only (32.3%) girls and (15.3%) of boys suffered from concussion type symptoms from heading. The study also identified that athlete-to-athlete contact as relation to heading was another factor that correlated with concussion among high school boys (78.1%) and girls (61.9%). Such data lead Comstock to conclude that “reducing athlete-athlete contact during heading through better enforcement of existing rules, enhanced the education of athletes on the rules of the game, and improved coaching of activities will be more effectively preventive measures to decrease the rate of concussions. Instead of simply banning heading.
Where does all of this lead parents with children participating Under-14 within youth soccer programs?
In answering the question, “Should my child head soccer balls?” (for parents, at least) Webbe proposes in his 2010 book (Webbe, & Salinas, C. 2010) the use of the following “decision tree”:
 (Ann C. McKee, Robert C. Cantu, Christopher J. Nowinski, Tessa Hedley-Whyte, Brandon E. Gavett, Andrew E. Budson, Veronica E. Santini, Hyo-Soon Le. 2009).
 (Ann C. McKee et al; 2009; Thurman, Branche, Sniezek., 1998; Langlois, Rutland-Brown, Wald, 2006)
 (Ann C. McKee et al; 2009)
 (Ann C. McKee et al; 2009)
 (Barnes, Cooper, Kirkendall, McDermott, Jordan & Garrett, 1998)
 (Geddes JF, Vowles GH, Nicoll JA, et al, 1999)
 (Cantu, Nowinski, Robbins, 2014)
 (Comstock, Currie, Pierpoint, Grubenhoff, Fields, 2015)