headerI’m more into baseball and football (as in NFL) but even I cannot help but get caught up in the excitement of the World Cup.  I have been amazed at the athleticism, strategic play, discipline, and stamina of these athletes.  These men have been playing soccer and preparing for the World Cup for their entire lives (they probably had soccer ball mobiles hanging over their cribs).   The next Messi or Ronaldo is probably running around some soccer field today in some corner of the world dreaming about playing in the World Cup.

What better time to focus on making soccer a safe sport for children around the world!
Bravo to the women of the 1999 USA World Cup Champion Team for advocating safe soccer for all children with the promotion of a well thought-out policy that would eliminate headers for children under the age of 14.  No one wants to scare children or their parents away from this sport; they just want to make it safer for all.  Brandy Chastain, Cindy Parlow Cone and Joy Fawcett have stepped up to reduce concussions and brain injuries in young children.  They know first-hand the risks associated with heading the ball.  Parlow Cone in particular still suffers from post concussion syndrome.  She started playing soccer when she was 3, and remembers “seeing stars” when heading the ball.  She didn’t realize that the multiple impacts over time would have a cumulative effect on her brain later in life.  Heading the ball also increases the risks of collisions.  Just thinking about 2 children’s heads colliding is enough to make me join this campaign to protect our kids.

Recent studies have raised a red flag, but there are still many unanswered questions.  Lipton and colleagues evaluated the cognitive function of adult amateur soccer players.  They found an association between the frequency of heading the ball, cognitive function and abnormal changes to the brain’s white matter microstructure.  But Dr. Lipton recognizes the limitations of his own work.  No two brains are the same; no two soccer headers are the same either.  He writes: “Moreover, we have yet to determine how heading risk might be exacerbated, or perhaps mitigated, by individual player characteristics. Brain injury is a very personal matter; each individual will experience it quite differently over the long run.”

Dr. Lipton is continuing his research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine with the goal of making soccer safer.

There is no doubt that continued research such as this will provide the evidence needed to develop better policies.  In the meantime, my thinking is, better safe than sorry.  Prevention of concussions and mild traumatic brain injury today will bring better players to the World Cup Tournaments in years to come.