I am a proud soccer mom. I love the sport and what it does for kids. It gives them confidence, close friendships, and tremendous athleticism. My daughter plays year-round and has for the last decade. We travel to different cities for tournaments and it’s fun for both players and parents.
But last year, I noticed something that really started to alarm me. It was an injury that was becoming all too common, especially with our girls.
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If your kids play any sport, you know competition can be fierce. And with aggressive play comes the risk of kids getting hurt. This is very evident in youth soccer. But with the girls, I noticed that we had to cancel some tournaments because we had too many players out of the game with concussions. Other teams reported the same problem.
Why were so many girls getting concussions on the field in this age group? The boys reported concussions as well, but not like the girls.
More than 3 million kids play in competitive soccer clubs, with the majority of those players in northeastern states, including upstate New York. Statistics show participation is split almost equally between boys and girls.
But according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons latest study on youth sports, high school girls in soccer are at the highest risk for concussions. I was not at all surprised. The study looked at high schools that reported numbers from 2005-2015 in all sports. It noted more than 40,000 injuries were reported in athletes, and more than 6,000 of those were concussions. But here is where it gets disturbing: middle and high school girls who play soccer are getting concussions at almost twice the rate as boys. The girls soccer concussion number beat out every other high school sport, including football.
I took this study to Dr. Hamish Kerr, a concussion expert and sports medicine doctor at Albany Medical Center. He talked about why this is happening to girls and what they can do to protect themselves. Boys at this age are often stronger than girls because of their developing bodies. The testosterone hormone makes them stronger. Dr. Kerr said girls need to work on their upper-body strength, which can help them prevent concussions. He said wearing protective headbands doesn't work, and can actually do more harm than good.
Dr. Kerr added that coaches and parents need to make sure injured players are not going back into the game too soon after a head injury. He is developing a state-of-the-art machine that helps determine when a player is ready to go back onto the field. He said referees also need to do a better job controlling rough games and making sure there is no tolerance for over-aggressive play.
I love youth soccer, and how the team sport is great for kids and bonds families. We just want to make sure the game stays competitive, fun, and most importantly, safe. If there’s something more we as parents can do to help our kids embrace the sport they love, let’s do it.