The brain injury problem in sports largely focuses on concussions, but the recent research suggests that mild traumatic brain injuries like concussions aren’t the only cause of the long-term brain damage being found in many older athletes. It is quickly being found that so-called “sub-concussive hits” or repeated hits that do not cause clinically diagnosable concussions may be the source of similar long-term brain damage.
These types of impact are especially common in soccer, where heading the ball is considered a core part of the sport. However, one Pennsylvania school is experimenting with banning heading the ball for players below the high-school level.
Bryn Mawr Shipley School administrators announced this change in guidelines this week, effectively making the school the first in the nation to ban a core portion of the sport in favor of ensuring their students’ safety. The administrators worked with former WWE champion Chris Nowinski and noted neurologist Dr. Robert Cantu.
The announcement on the school’s website reads:
We believe we can make significant progress by prohibiting the heading of soccer balls by Middle School students. Today’s data strongly indicate that head hits for Middle Schoolers have much more impact than once believed and that too often these players have not learned to head the ball correctly, that their necks, shoulders, and backs are not well enough developed to do the task properly, and that recurring use of heading increases the incidence of short term and long term problems. And, even for those who do know how to head the ball, the prospect of head injuries is increased by force and physical contact that often occurs when the players go up in the air and compete to head a ball.