With the 2018-2019 high school soccer season just getting started, high schools continue to take proper medical precautions to ensure girls’ safety on the field. A 2017 study by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons says concussion rates are higher among high school girls playing soccer than boys who play football. The AAOS’s findings have heightened awareness about female athlete health in Southern California.
“Girls soccer players are less likely to get an injury as it is, but of those injuries, it is in greater proportion to have concussions in girls soccer than in boys football,” said Wellington Hsu, professor of orthopedics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and lead author of the study.
Hsu says that athletes may receive concussions from heading the soccer ball, but data from 2005 to 2015 shows that players usually have brain injuries because of blindside hits from another player.
Maywood Academy High School, located just southeast of Los Angeles, has yet to have a major concussion among its female soccer athletes since its opening in 2006. Ernesto Serratos, the school’s athletic director, says that he has seen girls suffer from concussions, but they haven’t had a case where a girl suffering from a major concussion had to retire from playing soccer.
Serratos says that coaches are required to complete an online training course in order to coach girls soccer. Coaches must know what to do if a player has a concussion during a game or at a practice. “The coaches know better not to let them play because it might be a concussion,” Serratos said. “We do take our precautions.”
The California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) also continues to ensure the safety of athletes by providing rules for high schools to follow. “There have been a lot of playing rules that have changed and that’s a very important part of all of this, too,” said Rob Wigod, commissioner of athletics for the CIF Southern Section. “The rules about head-to-head contact and safety have been addressed in the rulebooks.”
Serratos says that the rules enforced by the CIF are helping Maywood Academy’s athletic programs. Not only are coaches taking online-trainings, but parents also have to sign papers that inform them of the injuries. By signing such papers, high schools, parents, and students are becoming more aware of brain injuries.
Proper medical treatment is necessary for girls who have suffered from concussions. If these athletes get hurt at an early age and don’t get medical attention, it can limit the pool of prospects able to attend Division-I schools such as USC on an athletic scholarship.
The article “Concussion in University Level Sport: Knowledge and Awareness of Athletes and Coaches,” emphasizes that there are important gaps in knowledge of concussions amongst coaches at the university level. Without the proper knowledge, coaches are unable to notice if a girl experiences a concussion on the field. In order to fill in those gaps, the article suggests that educational tools should be taken into account when it comes to contact sports.
Concussions continue to be a subject that athletes don’t want to talk about, but there are organizations that hope to raise awareness about what is happening to young athletes. The Concussion Legacy Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Boston, advocates for them, “protection of athletes and families through research, policy, and education.”
Esther Lovett, a Concussion Legacy Foundation ambassador, and former soccer player says that she shares her experiences with concussions because people need to know the effects of post-concussion syndrome. Lovett is one of many former soccer players who has experienced concussions not once, but as many as three times in her life. She says that post-concussion syndrome affects athletes by preventing them from playing the sport they love, as she was forced to retire from playing soccer. Athletes experience symptoms beyond the normal two weeks of recovery and are forced to withdraw from the life they know.
“I really wanted to start talking about this and raising awareness especially for girls,” said Lovett. “It’s something that wasn’t getting as much attention as football.”
Findings of the study show that out of 40,843 reported high school athlete injuries, 6,399 are concussions. The data also reveals that “during the 2014-2015 school year, concussions were more common in girls soccer than any other sport.” If the number continues to increase, it could lead to a decline in college soccer players.
“Our first priority is the health and safety of student-athletes across all sports, and we will always be keeping our focus on making sure that we put everything in place that we can to protect and make them safe,” Wigod said.
Despite efforts to raise awareness of concussions of the high school and university levels, Lovett says that several athletes won’t talk about the subject if they plan to play professionally. Lovett believes that athletes feel like their chances of playing professionally will decrease if recruiters know that they have suffered from a brain injury.
Separately, when asked about its concussion policy and protocol, USC’s Athletic Department declined to comment on the issue. Students at USC say that concussions in girls’ soccer must be taken seriously. “Concussions are known to have long-term implications and complications when it comes to an athletes health,” said Amar Kiswani, a graduate student. “If coaches and doctors took concussions seriously they would focus on both long-term and short-term effects.”
For now, the Concussion Legacy Foundation will continue to host events and create content on blogs and other platforms to raise awareness about concussions, while the CIF continues to look for ways to ensure the safety of its athletes as technology advances.