March a week of going to school

March is one of the most important months in any youth club soccer player’s life. It is one of the biggest college soccer showcases in the nation. Every player is trying to be noticed and recruited by his/her desired colleges. Exhausted from the dry, hot climate in Vegas, it was our fifth game in the span of three days. The pressure was on, as it was one of the most important games during the showcase. The score was tied and time was running out. Everyone was trying to do whatever she could to give the team the 2-1 lead in front of the critical college coaches. In attempt to stop the other team’s advancement up the field, my teammate jumped to head a fast-falling ball from the goalie’s punt. She immediately fell to the ground unconscious as soon as the ball hit her head. She was rushed off the field and examined by a sports medicine field marshall. Concussion tests were given to her, such as asking what day/year it is, spelling her last name, and counting backwards from 100 by seven. She failed some of the tests and was instructed by the medical crew to sit out for the rest of the game. The tournament was over and the following day, we flew back to Walnut Creek. My team mate took a visit to the hospital, where she would get tested by a doctor. The doctor performed all of the tests and concluded that she did, in fact, have a concussion. By the doctors orders, she was out a week of going to school and six weeks of playing soccer A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury caused by a bump or jolt to the head. They can be diagnosed by going to a doctor and having he/she perform concussion tests. “When I diagnose a concussion, I give my patients three tests. Those are visual, memory, and physical tests to be able to conclude what their status is” (Malhotra). Concussions occur in all sports, with the highest incidence rates in American football, hockey, rugby, soccer, and basketball. New studies say that the biggest contestor to football’s concussion impact on the brain is soccer. Soccer has repetitive impacts from the players hitting the ball and the players hitting players. Concussions are more likely to occur in the act of heading than with other parts of the game. All of these physical impacts start at a young age during development. Soccer athletes start playing as young as the age of three years old. Although kids start small, this doesn’t change the competitiveness of the game. In soccer, children are taught from the beginning to be very aggressive. Aggressive in getting to the ball first, no matter what, to do all that you can for your team. Of course, there are restrictions and rules that regulate how aggressive players can be, subjective to the age group. But, whatever the limit is, it can not stop the possibility of any injury. Overall, with the 265 million players worldwide, soccer represents a potentially huge pool of head injury patients, with youth soccer accounting for a large percentage of that number. With many alarming statistics related to youth concussions in soccer, how does heading in youth soccer affect adolescent development?Often times in soccer, when an athlete heads the ball, it doesn’t always hit the part of the head that a person intended on it hitting. Some people argue that this is just a matter of correctly training kids how to do so, but at a safer age. In an interview with Dr. Freitag, he stated, “Coaches at youth levels are mostly just parents who aren’t fully trained. They aren’t experienced and do not teach proper technique. So as a result of this, they may carry on their bad form for most of their career” (Freitag). This argument has caused U.S. Soccer to ban heading the ball until the age of 14. “The banning and limiting of heading is just one part of what’s being dubbed ‘a sweeping youth soccer initiative’ to help cut down on the number of concussions and other injuries seen at the youth level of the sport” (Payne). These changes came after a class-action lawsuit brought by a group of parents and players last year in U.S. District Court in California that sought rule changes preventing head injuries. The lawsuit charged FIFA, U.S. Soccer and the American Youth Soccer Organization with negligence for not addressing the issue. In 2010, more high school soccer players suffered concussions (50,000) than athletes in wrestling, baseball, basketball and softball combined, the lawsuit noted (Fatsis). The skill can still be taught in practice with supervised correct technique, but will be forbidden in games. In an interview with the New York Times, Laurer says, “I have a 14-year-old who plays soccer, and I really think it’s a question of them learning the proper technique, but if they can’t master it at a very young age, it can cause damage,” Lauer said. “They’re saying it’s the repetitive nature of heading the ball that could be the problem” (Fatsis). Whether in practice games or real competition, players who frequently head the ball are three times more likely to have concussion symptoms than players who don’t rack up high numbers of headers The new age rule will not eliminate the dangers in the game, but will postpone them until an athlete’s body is more prepared to face those dangers.  Concussions from heading the ball without any other contact to the head seems to be  rare in adult players. Some data suggests children are more susceptible to concussion from heading primarily in game situations (Is Heading). Age is a factor because it is easier to be concussed at an earlier age than at an adult age, and the recovery is slower. Also neck strength because if a person see the hit coming and have a strong neck, it significantly reduces the chance of a concussion. Hydration status because if someone is dehydrated, they’re more likely to have a concussion. Lastly, sex because women are more easily concussed than men (Turkington). Women’s symptoms are more severe and take longer to recover. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Injury Surveillance Program did a research study over a five-year period. The examined the rates per 1000 athlete-exposures. The data came out as 6.3 in females versus 3.4 in males in soccer, 6.0 in females versus 3.9 in males in basketball and 3.3 in females versus 0.9 in males in baseball and softball. In only swimming and diving did male rates (0.3) exceed those of females (0.5) (Roehr).  But, the common theme in both sexes include difficulty concentrating and dizziness. Youth players are more susceptible to concussions not only due to less developed technique, but also from lack of developed mechanics in a child. Kids have disproportionately big heads. By the age of five, their heads are about 90 percent of their adult circumference, and the neck has not nearly developed to that point (Fatsis). They have big heads on very weak necks and that bobblehead-doll. This means they don’t have to impact the head as hard to cause damage. Along with the disproportion, brains of children are not as myelinated as adult brains (Fatsis). Myelin is the coating of the neuron fibers, similar to coating on a telephone wire. It helps transmission of signals and it also gives neurons much greater strength, so young brains are more vulnerable. Many researchers have found that heading a ball in soccer can contribute to neurodegenerative problems. Neurodegenerative diseases are incurable and debilitating conditions that result in progressive degeneration and / or death of nerve cells (JPND). A condition that could result from the repetitive death of nerve cells can later lead to having a stroke. This shows that there is a very close relationship between the amount a person heads the ball and their possible brain abnormalities. Researchers have compared soccer players to swimmers. The difference? Swimmers’ brains look perfectly normal, while a soccer players’ brains have abnormalities in their white matter fiber tracts. Nerve cells transmit their messages to other nerve cells by way of their fiber tracts, or axons, and if the brain is violently shaken enough, a person can have disruption of their fiber tracts (Sneed). Excessive shaking of the brain or excessive trauma can lead to cognitive symptoms, including memory problems. Also behavior and mood problems can arise, such as anxiety and depression. Other symptoms include trouble with sleep, lightheadedness and headaches. In a study, 30% of soccer players have more than 1,000 headings per year and had a higher risk of microstructural white matter changes in the brain, which is typical of traumatic brain injury, and worse cognitive performance (Scutti). Young people who suffer concussions are at greater risk of long-term physical and mental consequences. Concussed athletes need cognitive rest, meaning no reading, writing or arithmetic. Michelle Pelton, a former high school soccer player from Swansea, Mass., related to the House Education and Labor Committee how her life had been affected by the five concussions she had sustained. ” ‘Everyday I endure memory loss, lack of concentration, depression, slow processing speed and cognitive effects that make my everyday life a battle,’ ” said Pelton, now 19 (Hayes).When boys and girls play similar sports such as basketball, soccer or baseball/softball, girls are twice as likely to suffer concussions. For reasons that are not entirely clear, the concussion rate for youth girls’ sports are higher than those comparable to youth boys’ sports. It is theorized that girls have less neck muscle strength to help absorb impact. “Because a whiplash effect is often blamed for a concussion, a brain injury can occur just by having the head violently snapback without a blow to the head” (Brady). The generally thinner, less muscular female neck is thought to be a factor in the rise in head injuries. Dr. Michael Lipton, a neuroradiologist and neuroscientist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System in New York City did a study on females and concussions. The Study: Data on concussions and concussion symptoms were gathered weekly on more than 350 female soccer players age 11 to 14 years from March 2008 through May 2012 (Heading). All of the athletes were elite players. There were 59 known concussions during the study. The symptoms lasted an average 9.4 days. Thirty percent of the concussions were due to heading the ball. Nearly 60% of the players continued to play with symptoms. But only half of the players sought medical help (Heading). For this group of elite female soccer players, the incidence of concussions was higher than in older age groups. Overall, there is no solid evidence that heading in youth soccer may cause any permanent brain injury. Also, limited evidence is shown that heading in youth soccer can cause a concussion. The most that is known for people who are not professional athletes is that 80 to 85 percent will recover within two to three weeks and there are no known long-term health consequences (English).  It is a person’s responsibility who have suffered from a concussion to make sure that their brain is completely healed so that  it is not potentially re injured during a sporting event. Patients with a more complicated recovery – with persistent post-concussive symptoms – should be more cautious. Athletes who return to play without allowing their brain to heal first may be setting themselves up for serious long-term consequences, because there is evidence that if you suffer from another brain injury when you haven’t recovered from a concussion, the recovery can be very prolonged and possibly result in long-term deficiency.

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