With all of the talk out there today about concussions, parents might be hesitant to enroll their kids in sports. My kids want to play every sport under the sun, so I understand that concern all too well. Concussions can heal relatively quickly or have serious, long-term repercussions, so what is a parent to do?
Football has long been the scapegoat for concussions in sports, though studies show that among kids, it is actually second to bicycle accidents. So a parent may decide that football is not right for their child, but hockey, baseball and even cheerleading have taken some heat for causing concussions, too. And a study now shows that soccer players who “head the ball” frequently show long-term brain changes.
Moms all over the country have enrolled their children in soccer because it is a sport with lots of running for exercise, a team environment, and lower player-to-player contact. Soccer is likely the world’s most popular sport, and as someone who played soccer for many years and now spends her Saturdays on the sidelines, this news hurts. When my son was younger, he wanted to play football and soccer. Not sure if I wanted him to play football (because he was extremely small for his age), we led him towards soccer. The deal was that if he disliked soccer, we would reconsider football the following year, though I admit to secretly hoping he stuck with soccer. Now it seems like any sport our children play could lead to concussion or lifelong brain injury.
Is this one of those moments where we are all just taking things too far? Do we keep our children in a bubble until adulthood or enroll them in sports and let the chips fall where they may?
This is a decision that each parent has to make for their own child. The one thing I know I will not do is be the mom who tells my son that he can play soccer as long as he does not head the ball too much. (I can just imagine him having nightmares about me running on the field mid-game to check for a concussion after each time he heads the ball.) Having played the sport for 12 years, there is a chance that my brain may (or may not) have a bit more white matter, but I am doing just fine, thank you very much. And as important as all of this sports related concussion research may be, we have to remember that it is incredibly important for our kids to get out and exercise.
According to the study, the impact from a single heading is unlikely to cause traumatic brain damage. The study looked at 37 amateur adult soccer players who had all played the sport since childhood. It noted that on average, amateur soccer players head the ball 6 to 12 times during games. They ranked the players based on heading frequency and then compared brain images and cognitive tests of the most frequent headers with the remaining players.
The results showed that soccer players who head the ball most frequently have more white-matter abnormalities in the brain than those who head the ball less often. So the amount of heading that a player does during his or her soccer playing days may help prevent brain injury.
So, soccer moms, do we let them play? What is your philosophy about children in sports?