Often given a green light by parents who consider it a safe alternative to football, soccer has recently come under scrutiny for being more dangerous than typically believed – especially when it comes to brain injuries in the form of concussions.

Unlike football that’s played primarily in the U.S., soccer is played across the globe, making it the most popular sport on the planet, with 265 million active players worldwide, according to International Federation of Association Football (FIFA). Easy to learn, and with less rules than many other sports, soccer has become the go-to youth sport for teaching teamwork, discipline, and how to embrace both wins and losses with grace – but at what cost?

Soccer and concussions

Although 50-80% of soccer injuries involve the feet and legs, up to 22% are from head injuries. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) determined that soccer is as much of a contact sport as football and ice hockey.

The recent uptick in concern has many questioning whether the rules of the sport should be changed, eliminating the most dangerous aspect-heading the ball-from the game.

Olympic and world cup soccer champion, Brandi Chastain, and chief of neurosurgery at Emerson Hospital and co-director of Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, Dr. Robert Cantu, have made it their mission to remove headers from the game for kids under fourteen.

According to Dr. Cantu, there’s a big difference between how an adult brain is affected by headers and a developing child’s brain. Explaining his position in a recent PBS interview, Dr. Cantu said: “Some of the key distinctions are that the young brain is largely not myelinated. Myelin is the coating of nerve fibers that connect nerve cells, similar to coating on a telephone wire, it helps transmission but it also gives strength. And so when you violently shake the young brain, you have a much greater chance to disrupt nerve fibers and their connections than you do an adult brain. A young brain is housed in a disproportionately big head. Ninety percent of our head’s circumference has been achieved by the age of five, but our neck strength and size is very small compared to where it will be as an adult.”

“So, you’ve got a bobblehead doll effect with our youngsters, so that the very minimal impact is now gonna set their brain in much more motion than it would in an adult brain with a strong neck.”

Although only a handful of teams have officially changed the rules to eliminate heading the ball for players under age fourteen (large scale change largely depends upon FIFA and the US Soccer Federation), some organizations are taking extra precautions to ensure players receive the attention they need. Here in Minnesota, we’ve proudly hosted the Schwan’s USA Cup for three decades, but this year we had no less than three team doctors present to identify, assess, and attend to concussions.

In the end, it’s up to each parent to look at the statistics, weigh the pros and cons, and decide whether to allow their kids to play in youth soccer. But if you are a proud soccer parent, know what to look for.

Concussion or not? What to look for

According to the Mayo Clinic symptoms of a concussion may include:

Headache or a feeling of pressure in the head
Temporary loss of consciousness
Confusion or feeling as if in a fog
Amnesia surrounding the traumatic event
Dizziness or “seeing stars”
Ringing in the ears
Slurred speech
Delayed response to questions
Appearing dazed
If you or a member of your family has suffered a brain injury as a result of a sports injury, contact Meshbesher & Spence immediately to discuss the details of your case. Our attorneys are here to ensure that you receive the medical care and rehabilitation treatments you deserve.