4 Practical Tips Soccer Players Can Follow to Try to Reduce their Concussion Risk
Mar 4, 2020
***This article is part of an educational series for soccer parents and youth players new to soccer***
The rate of concussions in soccer players and other sports is on the rise. `
You’ve probably seen your fair share of news stories about traumatic brain injuries and unfortunate tales about athletes who have sustained them. With the onslaught of concussion talk in the media, concerned parents, coaches and athletes alike are wondering how they can protect themselves from these injuries.
Concussions aren’t 100% preventable, but the risk of getting one can drop to near zero if the right steps are taken. And that’s the focus of today’s post - how soccer players of all ages and at all levels can significantly lower their concussion risks.
Teach Proper Heading Technique
Let’s start with an overlooked yet essential aspect of concussion avoidance - heading technique. You’ve probably seen this image before: two soccer players leap in the air for a header but lose sight of the ball or close their eyes. What happens? They bash heads. Even if they made contact with the ball, there was still a hard skull-to-skull impact.
This makes headers one of the most dangerous moves to pull off in soccer. It’s essential that players learn to follow the trajectory of the ball from the moment it’s launched to the moment they make contact with it.
Additionally, players need to adopt the appropriate stance for a header. This stance may vary depending on what the player is doing at the moment but assuming that they’re in a standing position, they should:
- Fix the neck
- Press the chin on the chest.
- Jump ahead with their body
- Hit the ball with the right timing, not too far in front or in the back of the upper part of the body.
- Hit the ball with the whole forehead.
- If you want to change the direction of the ball, change the upper part of the body in the respective direction before heading.
Again, there are other positions or situations where the technique may change, but the above-mentioned stance is ideal. This brings us to our next point.
Vision Training for Peripheral Awareness
Research supports the fact that players are at greater risk for injury if they lack good visual training. How?
There are many visual skills needed for elite soccer performance (ie. visual memory, eye tracking), but an overlooked one is peripheral awareness. As its name suggests, peripheral awareness is the ability to see action or objects that are not directly in front of you.
In soccer, many concussions occur when players collide with opponents who seemingly come out of nowhere. Strong peripheral awareness allows players to see their opponents without having to turn their head. Ultimately, a player with strong peripheral awareness can then shift away from an opponent and avoid head-to-head collisions.
Of course, peripheral awareness is a skill and it takes practice. There are various methods to help players develop their peripheral vision skills. They range from vision training software to soccer-specific drills that can expand a player’s field of vision.
Wear Protective Headgear
Sometimes, head impacts and collisions are inevitable. However, that doesn’t mean that players are necessarily defenseless against brain injuries. Wearing the right type of protective headgear (sometimes casually dubbed “concussion headgear”) may lower a player’s concussion risk (as some studies suggest - see our other posts on the topic), or at the very least, reduce the force of an impact thus reducing the risk of nasty cuts and bruises.
We’ve discussed at length before the research published on the efficacy of headgear. Although there are different helmets on the market made with different materials, they generally work the same: they provide protective padding that can soften the blow of a head impact. In some cases, the amount of impact reduction achieved by headgear may sufficiently lower the movement of the brain within the skull to reduce the risk of a brain injury.
With that said, not all soccer head guards deliver top-notch results. We can proudly say that our ExoShield Headguard is a leader in the market, estimated to reduce the risk of a concussion by 84% by the Virginia Tech helmet study.
While we are proud of this encouraging data, we believe more research needs to be conducted to solidify the market’s understanding of the value of headgear in preventing brain injuries in soccer, and always care to emphasize to players and parents that there is no single "silver bullet" solution against head injuries. All we can do is be smart about how we prepare to attempt to reduce the risks.
We think it’s prudent for players of all ages and backgrounds to wear soccer headgear. While there is no perfect solution to head injuries, the headgear may make the difference between a hard knock and a really bad concussion.
Teach Athletes a Balanced Sense of Aggression
Last but not least, coaches need to instill a healthy sense of aggression in their players. A player who’s too timid won’t attack the ball and execute plays. However, a player who is too aggressive will likely injure others or themselves, and that could indirectly raise the risks of sustaining a concussion.
That’s why coaches need to help their players achieve a balance in this regard. The ideal player is confident enough to carry out a play but will do his or her best to avoid injuring their opponent.
How coaches teach this balance will differ. Nevertheless, it’s important that they connect with their players and help them see the dangers of being overly aggressive on the pitch.
Concussion Prevention is a Habit
Currently, the sports world (including soccer) is quite reactive to the threat of concussions. In other words, we often do too little to prevent them until it’s time to treat them.
Here at Storelli, we believe in the opposite approach - a proactive one. With sound training and protective gear, it’s possible for a new generation of soccer players to reduce the risks of brain injuries suffered by their predecessors.