Youth: How Soccer Concussion Rates Compare to Other Sports

Jul 2, 2020

Football has notoriously stolen the spotlight for its concussion risks. More recently, the brain injury risks of other sports, like soccer, have begun making headlines. But just how safe is soccer compared to other sports? 

Thanks to mounting research efforts from injury specialists, the numbers on concussions in soccer are coming to light. Young players and their parents should be aware of the risks and the preventative measures that can lower the risks. 

This post takes a look at the statistics on concussion risks and how they compare with other sports. As well as what players can do to protect themselves. 

Soccer Concussions and TBIs in Other Sports - An 11-Year Study

Researchers conducted a major study to better understand the risks and trends of sports-related concussions among 12 main high school sports. The purpose? To uncover incidence rates among these school sports between the 1997-1998 and 2007-2008 academic school years. 

They collected their data by using electronic medical record-keeping, along with certified athletic trainers who stayed on-site during games and practices to record daily injuries. 

A total of 2651 concussions took place among 10,926,892 athlete exposures - a rate of 0.24 per 1000. 

As a side note, an Athletic Exposure (AE) is defined as one athlete participating in one game or practice. The numbers for concussion incidence rates are shown as “X” per 1,000, meaning that the “X” is the number of injuries for every 1,000 times one athlete plays in a game or practice. 

Up to 75% of all concussions occurred in the boys’ sports. More than half of the concussions occurred in football. In girls’ sports, though, soccer had the most concussions which in turn was the second-highest incidence rate across all sports (second to boys’ football)

This study, among several others, confirms the reality that girls and women face a higher risk of concussions in soccer than boys. However, this study is only one piece of a greater puzzle. 

Additional Studies on Concussions in Soccer and Other Sports

Over the years, more studies analyzed the rates of concussions among youth athletes (under age 18) and adult athletes (18 years and older). Let’s first look at young athletes under the age of 18. 

Young athletes, including soccer players, are at a higher risk for sustaining concussions and suffering long-term effects from them compared to adult athletes. Remember, young brains are still growing and therefore, more susceptible to chronic brain injury. 

Looking at a study published by Complete Concussion Management (CCM), the following concussion rates were discovered:

  1. Rugby (4.18/1,000 AE)
  2. Ice hockey (1.20/1,000 AE)
  3. American football (0.53/1,000 AE)
  4. Lacrosse (0.24/1,000 AE)
  5. Soccer (0.23/1,000 AE)
  6. Wrestling (0.17/1,000 AE)
  7. Basketball (0.13/1,000 AE)
  8. Softball & field hockey (0.10/1,000 AE)
  9. Baseball (0.016/1,000 AE)
  10. Cheerleading (0.07/1,000 AE)
  11. Volleyball (0.03/1,000 AE)

    Placing 5th puts soccer in what we would consider a “moderate” risk category. Unsurprisingly, sports like rugby and football have a much higher rate of concussions. 

    The same study also analyzed injury rates among athletes 18 years and older and yielded fairly consistent results. For the adults, the results were divided into concussion rates during regular games and practice games. 

    Game Play

    1. Men's rugby match play (3.00/1,000 AE)
    2. Men’s American football (2.5/1,000 AE)
    3. Women’s ice hockey (2.27/1,000 AE)
    4. Men’s Ice hockey (1.63/1,000 AE)
    5. Women’s soccer (1.48/1,000 AE)
    6. Men’s football (or soccer) (1.07/1,000 AE)

    During practice

    1. Men's rugby (0.37/1,000 AE)
    2. Women’s ice hockey (0.31/1,000 AE)
    3. Men’s American football (0.30/1,000 AE)
    4. Women’s football (or soccer) (0.13/1,000 AE)
    5. Men’s ice hockey (0.12/1,000 AE)
    6. Men’s football (or soccer) (0.08/1,000 AE)

    Overall, soccer is safer than rugby, hockey and football in adults as it is among youth athletes. But again, women’s soccer was riskier than men’s soccer, and only less risky than women’s ice hockey. 

    What Do These Rates of Soccer Concussions Mean for Players?

    The reality for both boys and girls is that soccer can be risky. With the emergence of research on concussions and sophisticated methods to study damaged brains, we’re now starting to understand the damage that impacts to the head can have. But the purpose of this information isn’t to incite fear. Rather, it’s to raise awareness and implement measures to reduce the risk of soccer concussions. Doing so boils down to a few essentials. 

  1. Wearing soccer headgear - A soccer concussion headband may help to reduce the impact of headers and head collisions among players. For example, our ExoShield head guard has demonstrated the potential to significantly reduce head trauma, although to be clear there is no silver bullet solution against concussions and TBIs.
  2. Proper ball heading technique - Since headers account for many concussions in soccer, it’s important that players learn proper technique. Good technique helps players visualize their surroundings more astutely, avoid collisions and encourages more “even” distribution of impact forces to head and neck. 
  3. Avoid overexertion - Players are spending more time on the pitch and thus exposing themselves to a higher chance of injury. Coaches need to consider the volume of time and effort they subject their players to and give them adequate rest periods. 
  4. Keeping the Next Generation of Young Soccer Players Safe

    There’s no way to guarantee soccer players a 100% risk-free time on the pitch. There will always be a chance of getting injured on the field, and that could mean getting a concussion - the numbers in the studies solidify it. However, with the right awareness and protective measures in place, the next generation of talent will be more prepared than those before them. While no one can erase the risk, we can reduce the numbers.

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