Head Games – wearing protective gear

Hammering the ball with your bare head. It’s obligatory in soccer (at least at the competitive level). Since FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, began permitting its use in 2003, headgear has been worn by thousands of players from youth leagues to high schools to colleges to the pros. The headgear gained international visibility during the 2003 Women’s World Cup and the Athens Olympics.

Most headgear resembles an enlarged headband that covers the forehead, temples and occipital bone in back of the head. The device is made of shock-absorbing foam situated between an outer layer of Lycra and an inner layer of sweat-absorbing polypropylene. While it can’t prevent concussions, makers of the headgear say it can reduce, by up to 50 percent, the peak impact forces that occur during typical collisions.

Soccer HeadgearThere is disagreement on whether heading a soccer ball can cause concussions or long-term brain impairment. Studies have presented contradictory results, and the matter remains disputed as the soccer federation undertakes a long-term examination of head injuries. The headgear is being marketed primarily to children (and parents of children), who least need them because doctors say there is little incidence of concussions in players under the ageof 12.

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Research finds that players banging their heads on each other, or surfaces such as goal posts or the ground, cause about five times more concussions than from heading the ball. Rather than headgear, some officials advocate better technique, stricter rules enforcement and improved officiating to reduce the number of head injuries. Some also recommend mouth guards and padded goal posts instead of padded headgear.

The concern over concussions, and whether headgear can protect against them, is a growing issue for youth soccer associations and many either recommend or require that players wear it. Just as shinguards are compulsory for players, many organizations are also requiring the use of headgear (even though a lot of kids resist saying they look goofy).

What should you do? Look at the facts closely, talk to your coaches and parents,
and decide what works best for you.

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