Life has a funny way of driving home a message. Back in June, I had just suffered my first concussion while playing adult co-ed soccer when I wrote about bicycle helmet safety for a client. It never occurred to me just how dangerous a soccer ball could be, nor did it occur to me to question why protective head gear isn’t mandatory in the game. It’s only a ball. Why would I question it?
Soccer has climbed in popularity in the United States over the last 20 years, to the point where last year’s World Cup ratings showed a higher viewership than the average viewership for the World Series. Think about it. Women’s collegiate teams have grown by over 115%, the number of high school players has more than doubled to nearly one million, and men’s teams grew nearly 50% within the same time period. Both Beckham and Jeter’s names are equally recognizable, right?
Unfortunately, the number of head injuries incurred has grown along with soccer’s growth in popularity. The CDC explains best what a concussion is: “A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury, or TBI, caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head that can change the way your brain normally works. Concussions can also occur from a fall or a blow to the body that causes the head and brain to move quickly back and forth.” Concussions can last for weeks, months, and can sometimes have lifetime effects. The symptoms can include: headaches, numbness, decreased coordination, nausea, slurred speech, convulsions, seizures, memory loss, etc.
This is your brain, not your knee or ankle or hamstring. You can visibly recover from those injuries. It’s much more difficult to “see” your brain heal, which means you’ll likely be prescribed “brain rest” — no TV, no video games, no reading, getting lots of rest, and in my case, someone else watching your children.
Four months later, I am just recovering from a second Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). In my last soccer game (per doctor’s orders), I took a direct shot to the jaw which was dislocated, my chin bruised, and my brain rattled inside my skull. Two weeks of “brain rest” was the prescription. It was frustrating, agonizing, maddening, but 100% necessary. My memory is still sketchy, but one thing is very clear: soccer is in desperate need of making head injuries a less frequent occurrence.
Bicyclists wear helmets that have the rider 100% in mind. The National Football League works tirelessly to better their current protective gear. Soccer has protective head gear, but it has yet to become mandatory. Don’t wait for it to be the hottest fashion accessory – protect your brain now, while you’re smart enough to make it matter.