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Are Concussion Protocols the Wussification of Soccer?

On Tuesday, US Soccer announced new concussion protocols. As someone who has lived with this for the last three years I can say that it does not represent a wussification of soccer, merely an evolution. But is it the right evolution?

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

I have told this story before.  So bear with me for a bit...

Three years.

That is what it has been for us since our world changed.

Three years ago today, my partner Stephanie and our daughter Giada were walking in a crosswalk (in a school zone) and were struck by someone driving and texting at 35mph in that school zone.  Giada suffered a concussion and has scars up and down her back and still suffers nightmares about the accident. And Stephanie, as you know, suffered a major concussion, broken pelvis, and two broken bones in her back.  For the first two months of her recovery, she did not know our names.  Physically, Steph spent a year in therapy getting back to "normal."  Life, as it is, has gotten back to (mostly) normal for us.

The battle with the concussion is nearly over for her as well.  But with brain injuries, there is no set timetable as to when things heal.   For her it has taken three years but she is not the same person I knew when I first met her.  That is the thing with a traumatic brain injury, things get better, but they never go all the way back to what they were.  This changes  you.  It has changed her.  The battle will never be completely over for Steph, but everyday is just a bit better than the last.

So why bring this up?  Why talk about this today on a Colorado Rapids blog?  Well tonight we are celebrating the three year anniversary at our place in the north Metro.  And yeah, a beer or two will be raised tonight.  And while tonight will be a blast and be therapeutic for us, concussions are never far from our thoughts.  And yep...news this week from the soccer world has made us talk more and more about concussions and what to do about them.

US Soccer announced an initiative this week that is a "player safety initiative" to help stave off concussions.  This was born from a lawsuit and as part of the settlement of the lawsuit, US Soccer agreed to:

1.  Improve concussion awareness and education among youth coaches, referees, parents and players

2.  Instill uniform concussion management and return-to-play protocols for youth players

3.  Modify substitution rules to allow players who may have suffered a concussion during games to be evaluated without penalty

4.  Prohibit heading the ball for children 10 and under and limit the activity to practice only for ages 11 to 13.

As someone who has dealt with this over the last three years I feel qualified to offer my insight on these reforms and what they could mean for soccer.  Let me tackle these one by one:

Improve concussion awareness and education among youth coaches, referees, parents and players--as I have mentioned, I have lived through this and I understand concussions.  But the average person does not know anything about concussions.  They know that American football players "get their bell rung" but for the most part they do not know much about what a traumatic brain consists of.  More education for everyone related to soccer is crucial and I applaud this step.

Instill uniform concussion management and return-to-play protocols for youth players--I remember when Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper Hugo Lloris got kneed in the head by Everton FC forward Romelu Lukaku in accidental contact in 2013.  It was a brutal injury that was made worse by Lloris being allowed to return to the field after nothing more than a cursory examination.  Yes, Lloris should have told his club doctors that he could not keep going, but it was also up to those doctors to have the knowledge to not let Lloris keep playing.

Modify substitution rules to allow players who may have suffered a concussion during games to be evaluated without penalty--There are teams that would milk this one, but it has to happen.  If a player has a suspected head injury he or she should be allowed to be substituted without penalty to the team in question.

Prohibit heading the ball for children 10 and under and limit the activity to practice only for ages 11 to 13--This seems reactionary.  Concussions happen in soccer from a variety of ways, and yes, heading is one of them.  But to take heading away from soccer is foolish.  Injuries, including concussions, happen in soccer.  Nothing that you can do to coddle players will stop this.  What is important is to find a way to deal with the injuries when they come.  But to ban heading is foolish and takes away an integral part of the game.

So what is the answer when it comes to concussions?  Knowledge and education are the keys here, and certainly prevention is important as well.  But short of elimination ALL risk in soccer, concussions are going to happen.  How you deal with the concussion is where the efforts should be placed.  And US Soccer is almost there, but banning heading is not the answer.

And take it from someone who has lived with this for the last three years--sometimes bad shit happens to good people.  No matter how much prevention you can have, shit happens.  On that November day, Steph and Giada did everything right, but the accident still happened.  And in the course of soccer games, concussions can happen.  But giving those who love the game the education and resources to help those who suffer concussion is the important lesson in all of this.

The game and the players who play it deserve nothing less.