Recent evidence has shown that some parents have considered removing their child from youth sports because of concussion risk. (1)
While concussion is undoubtedly a risk, many would agree the benefits of participation in youth sport outweigh those potential risks. Youth soccer, in particular, is a very popular sport reaching millions of individuals in the U.S. While it would be quite unfortunate to see declines in participation in the future, we must acknowledge that soccer is considered a high-risk sport for concussion.
In order to reduce concussion risk while also maintaining retention in youth soccer, it is going to be critical to understand how parents perceive concussion management.
New Research about Parent Perceptions of Concussion Management
Researchers Kim and Connaughton are doing just that! They recently conducted a large study aimed at better understanding concussion management from the perspective of parents of youth soccer players in the U.S. (2)
They surveyed 419 parents of children (ages 5-19) participating in the following programs (US Youth Soccer Association, American Youth Soccer Organization, US Club Soccer, and/or Soccer Association for Youth). Most of the respondents were mothers (67%). Most identified as Caucasian (73%), followed by African-American (10%) and Hispanic (10%).
The primary aims of the survey were to understand parent perceptions of:
- the roles of coaches in concussion management,
- heading restriction policies, and
- concussion risk and participation.
Lastly, the researchers sought to determine what factors were associated with the parent’s decision to allow their child to participate in youth soccer.
Roles of Coaches in Concussion Management
80% of parents believed that it was important for coaches to be knowledgeable about concussion safety, as well as undergo concussion training. Alarmingly, only 36% of parents felt very confident in the ability of their child’s coach to identify concussions.
Heading Restriction Policies
The majority of respondents agreed with the current U.S. Youth Soccer policies on heading that were implemented in an attempt to reduce concussion risk. (These policies state that: soccer players ≤10 years are not allowed to head the ball in practices or games, while soccer players ≥13 years can head the ball in practices and games.)
Concussion Risk and Participation
Perhaps the most notable finding of the present study was that nearly half of the respondents (45%) had considered removing their child from youth soccer out of fear of concussion risk.
Factors Associated with Parent’s Consideration to Keep Child out of Youth Soccer
The following factors were associated with parent’s consideration to keep their child from playing youth soccer:
- Parents having lower socioeconomic status
- Parents having less experience in soccer (playing and/or coaching)
- Parent having not received concussion education
- Child having experienced a previous concussion
Several takeaways can be learned from this study to direct efforts for concussion education while also improving retention in youth soccer. First, we must take a look at our current concussion education practices to ensure that all communities, especially those of lower socioeconomic status, are receiving comparable concussion education. Second, coaches must receive education and training on identifying and managing concussions, especially in youth sports where athletic trainers or other qualified healthcare professionals are not readily available.
Results of this study should be used to direct efforts in improving concussion education and policy development in youth soccer to help create a safe and sustainable future for its youth participants.
- Aspen Institute. (2014). Project Play survey of parents on youth sports
- Kim S, Connaughton DP. Soccer, concussions, and safety: Perceptions of parents of youth soccer participants. J Safety Res. 2021 Jun;77:255-262. doi: 10.1016/j.jsr.2021.03.008. Epub 2021 Mar 29. PMID: 34092316.
About the Author
Dr. Jennifer Hunnicutt is a licensed athletic trainer with a PhD in Health and Rehabilitation Science, who has worked with all types of athletes, including professionals and Olympians. She has held prominent research positions at Emory Sports Medicine and the NBA Hawks Center in Atlanta, GA, as well as serving on the national network of healthcare providers for U.S. Figure Skating. Now the owner of Hunnicutt Writing and Consulting, LLC, Dr. Hunnicutt collaborates with global institutions, spearheading innovation and research among professionals and businesses in Sports Medicine and Orthopedics. Learn more at https://drhunnicutt.com.