Concussions, and other traumatic brain injuries, have received their share of attention lately — mostly in football.
However, such injuries are also prevalent in other sports, including girls soccer.
According to a 2013 study cited by momsteam.com, a website that provides information on health and injury prevention in sports, soccer ranks second to football in the number of trips to emergency rooms for traumatic brain injuries.
Another study on the website showed that basketball and soccer had the highest rates of concussions for girls, with female soccer players 40 percent more likely to be concussed as their male counterparts, according to the Center for Disease Control.
“It’s definitely taken seriously by us,” Edmonds-Woodway girls soccer coach Bill LeCompte said. “Girls soccer is the second-leading concussed rate in the United States. We’re very cognizant of it. We have to be. The reality is girls are going up and colliding. As a coaching staff, we’ve got to watch it.”
Head injuries occur not only from players colliding, but from players falling to the ground or players contacting the ball with their heads.
Some high school teams have seen players’ seasons — and even careers — ended by concussions. The Snohomish girls team lost key defender Kaytlin Willis for two weeks late last season because of a concussion.
Another Snohomish player got hit in the head with a ball, missed the rest of the season and sat out the following season.
“From our team standpoint, we do so much to prepare ahead of time against pulled quads and stuff like that, but you can’t do anything on those concussion things,” Snohomish head coach April VanAssche said. “I’m sure we’re all more aware of it.”
Willis, now a senior for Snohomish, and the Panthers take a preseason baseline test so that if they injure their heads during the regular season, they can be tested to “give us a reading to see if they’ve got a concussion,” VanAssche said.
As another precaution, many coaches take time to point out the proper way to head a ball while minimizing a players’ risk of injury.
“It’s no different than a football tackle,” LeCompte said. “If you use the wrong form and hit the kid in the wrong spot, that’s going to lead you to (a head injury).”
It’s not just incorrect form on headed balls that cause concussions. Collisions between players fighting for possession, slipping and falling to the turf and even whiplash when heading a ball can lead to a concussion.
The scary realization for coaches is there’s just no sure way to tell when a head injury might occur next.
“Sometimes they won’t show the symptoms until the next day,” said Archbishop Murphy head coach Michael Bartley, who coaches both the Wildcats girls and boys teams. “You’ll be watching them and you’ll ask them if they’re OK and then we’ll test them out. … We’ve had girls show symptoms of concussions without ever getting hit in the head.”
Like Snohomish, Archbishop Murphy does preseason testing to help clarify a possible concussion. The Wildcats also practice proper heading technique with lighter balls, to make sure the players know the importance of the correct procedure. The Wildcats even practice on a grass field instead of turf, because it’s a softer surface in case a player falls.
“I think concussions, overall, is a very important issue,” Bartley said. “As coaches, we have to take concussion testing to know that we have a good knowledge base of what to look for. The (Washington Interscholastic Activities Association) is all over it, the (Cascade) Conference is all over it, Murphy is all over it.”
The Wildcats, like other teams in the area, also have athletic trainers on the sideline to watch for possible head injuries and inform coaches if a player needs to come out of the game.
“The biggest thing, I think, is awareness,” Bartley said. “We watch for it all the time. We check everybody out and make sure they’re OK. I think that’s really the best you can do is just be aware and look out for it.”
LeCompte says that with the increased attention and concern given to concussions, coaches are better trained to spot potential problems.
“We’re following the protocols that are set forth by the state of Washington, our school district and our athletic trainers,” LeCompte said. “We’ve been given training to help recognize and try to assess better. My job, as a coach, has changed in that way dramatically just because now we’ve got more research, more information and a better ability of what to look for.
“The game itself is what it is,” LeCompte continued. “We’re not changing the way we approach the game. We’re just trying to do it correctly.”