Are We ‘Headed’ In The Right Direction?
A leading authority in youth soccer and coaching education presenting at prestigious national and international conferences, Dr. Ron Quinn shares his feedback of the recent USSF recommendations based on the recent concussion lawsuit settlement.
Dr. Ron Quinn, is entering his 39rd year in teaching. During this time Dr. Quinn has worked at every educational level. Currently at Xavier University, Dr. Quinn is an associate professor and Program Coordinator for the online graduate program in Coaching Education and Athlete Development. Here is Dr. Ron Quinn on Concussions:
Are we ‘headed’ in the right direction? The recent announcement from the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) on the recommendation that heading be eliminated for children 10 and under, is a step in the right direction with regard to athlete health and long-term sport participation.
Related Article: Youth Soccer Heading For a Big Change After Concussion Lawsuit
Although the impetus was the result of a lawsuit and part of ongoing initiatives on player safety, the final decision was based on overwhelming evidence about the mechanics of concussion/head trauma and the resulting long-term cognitive development issues.
Even though this issue has received national attention, the fact that the decision was based on scientific evidence, rather than tradition or other countries’ beliefs, is refreshing, and hopefully sets a precedent for the Federation when addressing player developmental and performance issues.
The next logical question is what will be the result and does it go far enough?
As with any complex issue, a single decision or action does not solve the problem, but it does bring the issue to the surface. The purpose of this commentary is to ask additional questions to further the discussion in a more holistic, developmental framework by identifying additional factors that should also be considered.
I’ll start with an analogy asking: Is a tadpole a frog, or is a caterpillar a butterfly? . . . Not yet! And therefore, along the same lines, is a 6 to 10 year-old a soccer player? … Not yet!
This recognition brought us small-sided games for the various youth age groups, and the child-centered approach promoted by the US Youth Soccer National Youth Coaching Course. From a child development perspective, the question raised is: Will this recommendation reduce or eliminate soccer-related head injuries or concussions?
Since it is highly unlikely that it will totally eliminate concussions, the question then becomes to what degree may it reduce them? Or even further, what other factors or behaviors might contribute to varying degrees of head trauma?
Giannotti, el al. (2010) reported that most severe head injuries in soccer are caused by an acute contact mechanism (collisions), and includes such things as head to head contact, head to elbow, knee or foot, head to ground, and head to goal. The USSF has indicated the need for coaches and parents to recognize the symptoms of a concussion, which would help immensely in identifying the injury.
Since a significant number of injuries are the result of collisions, it’s important for coaches to attempt to reduce them by adding impact avoidance as a practice objective.
Many game-activities and tag type games already do this, but there should be an increased emphasis to teach children how to avoid each other. This does not necessarily mean we should eliminate tackling, but how many times do you see children run into each other in practices or games because they can’t change direction or stop fast enough? When players dribble in and out of cones, and perform other such drills, this prevents them from learning the real skills needed. Additionally, when parents and coaches are screaming from the sidelines it creates a level of energy on the field that the child is unable to control which raises the question –
Does ball to head contact occur as a result of parents screaming “kick-it, kick-it, kick-it” (resulting in the ball going airborne) when they should either be quiet or at least say, control-it, dribble-it and pass-it?
There is also some evidence that micro-trauma over an extended period of time may contribute to Traumatic Brian Injury (TBI) and/or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) (McKeee, et al. 2014). Therefore, we should rethink how we introduce children to the game and at what age is most appropriate. When you watch a game of six year olds and under, what is the frequency of falls and collisions compared to what a child would normally experience in their daily life? One could argue that children fall down or run into things all of the time, which is a normal part of growing up and learning how to control your body. But how often would a group of 6-10 children be in a situation where they all were contesting to play with the same ball?
Recognizing what could potentially be a safety and health issue in this beautiful game should be viewed as a complex and interconnected issue that will not be resolved through one recommendation. The USSF should be commended for taking a leading role in the concussion issue and it’s my hope that their initiative sparks continued research to better understand the long-term health consequences so that all can safely participate in a lifetime of soccer joy.
Giannitti, M., A-Sahab, B., McFaull, S., & Tamin, H. (2010). Epidemiology of acute head injuries in Canadian children and youth soccer players. Injury, Int. J. Care Injured 41 (907-912)
McKee, A. C., Daneshvar, D. H., Alvarez, V. E., & Stein, T. D. (2014). The neuropathology of sport. Acta Neuropathologica, 127 (1), 29–51. http://doi.org/10.1007/s00401-013-1230-6
United States Soccer Federation, Joint statement regarding concussion lawsuit resolution. http://www.ussoccer.com/about/federation-services/sports-medicine/player-safety-campaign