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Soccer-Related Injuries in Kids are Rising – What Can Parents Do?

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Soccer-Related Injuries in Kids are Rising – What Can Parents Do? Soccer-Related Injuries in Kids are Rising – What Can Parents Do?

By: Jeff Mjaanes, MD, FAAP

Quick passes, dribbling, headers, and punts make soccer a fun, healthy way for children of all ages to stay active and learn important life skills. And if your child is one of the roughly 4 million kids in the US who already play on a soccer team each year, you know all too well how the sport has evolved; soccer has changed to a year-round sport with many young soccer players playing on multiple teams simultaneously.

Despite the many physical, mental, and social benefits of soccer, recent studies show soccer-related injuries rising. In this article, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers answers to many frequently asked questions and provides tips for keeping your young soccer players from being sidelined by an injury.

Frequently Asked Questions 

What are the most common injuries in youth soccer players?

Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries are also a big concern, especially in teenage girls. This is likely due to many reasons including hormones, body anatomy, and how the nerves and muscles work together. See ACL Injuries in Young Athletes.

Did you know many high school soccer injuries occur during illegal plays in games?

It's true. In fact, among all high school sports, soccer has the highest rate of injuries attributed to illegal play. Injuries from illegal play are more likely to affect the head and neck than injuries that happen during legal play. Most concussions occur when the player's head contacts another player, not the ball. 

In an effort to decrease the number of soccer-related injuries, the AAP encourages coaches and parents to enforce the rules of fair play. In general, injuries are more common for high school soccer players than for players under age 12. When children learn the importance of sportsmanship at a young age, it is more likely to stay with them as they grow.

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Brad Guzan Family

"When I am coaching and playing, I try hard to engage individually with everyone on the team at some point during the practice or game. Positivity goes a long way in keeping soccer fun. With my 4-year-old and his new teammates, I try to explain the importance of teamwork and sportsmanship while we work on some of the very basic fundamentals. Sports in general are great ways to teach those life skills. As a parent, I always want to see my kids having fun out there." 
―Brad Guzan,  Dad of 3
Atlanta United goalkeeper
Atlanta's '18 Special Olympic Unified Team Volunteer Coach 

How worried should parents be about concussions in soccer? 

  • Concussions are a relatively common injury in soccer, and the rates of concussion among youth soccer players seem to be increasing―especially in girls. Heading the ball is the most dangerous act in soccer with respect to concussion, but most head injuries occur from contact with another player during the act of heading, rather than from contact with the ball itself.  

If you are wondering how to tell a harmless bump on the head from something more serious, check out this parent webinar, Concussions 101: What Parents Need to Know , discussing the signs and symptoms of a concussion, who should examine your child and when, and when he or she can return to school and sports activities. Also see Sports-Related Concussion: Understanding the Risks, Signs, Symptoms.

When should kids start heading the ball?

  • Many organizations are now advocating that players wait to start heading the ball until 10-12 years of age, when kids have developed stronger core and neck muscles and learned proper technique―including tensing neck muscles.

At this time, there is not enough medical evidence to show that wearing headgear or mouthguards will prevent concussion in soccer players. Using headgear may also give players a false sense of security, which could increase the likelihood of risk-taking behavior and a concussion.

How does the rate of serious injuries in high school soccer compare to the rates in other sports?

  • For serious season-ending injuries in high school athletes, the injury rate for male soccer players is lower than football, ice hockey, and lacrosse and higher than seven other commonly played sports. For girls, only gymnastics has a higher rate of season-ending injuries.  

What if my child only wants to play soccer and no other sports?

  • In general, encouraging exposure to many different sports is very important. Talk with your child about his or her or reasons for wanting to specialize. Is it to make a high school team? Is it for success in college? Only one in four out­standing elementary school athletes becomes a sports standout in high school. About 3-11% of high school athletes compete at a college level, and only 1% receive an athletic scholarship. Early sports specialization also carries the risk of higher injury rates, increased psychological stress, and an increased likelihood of quitting the sport at an early age.

How many days or hours a week should kids practice soccer?

  • To avoid sports-related injuries, the AAP recommends kids train no more hours per week than their age. The AAP also advises to rest 1 to 2 days per week and take at least 3 months off during the year in 1-month increments from their sport. 

Tips for Parents Shopping for Soccer Gear: 

  • Shoes. Make sure your kicker's cleats fit properly from season to season and change out any worn laces. Also note the shoe type needed depends on the surface your child will be playing on. Check with the coaches. Outdoor soccer shoes with conical (cone-shaped) studs on the bottom offer more stability and faster release from the ground. Know that studies have linked shoes with bladed (arrow-shaped) studs or a combination of bladed and conical studs to more injuries.

  • Soccer balls. Is your child using an adult-size soccer ball? Heading a ball too large or overinflated can cause head and neck injuries. Use caution when purchasing a ball for home or team-use and select one labeled for your child's age. Inflate it according to the instructions.

  • Shin guards. At multiple levels of soccer, shin guards are required equipment. If you are buying soccer shin guards by standard sizes like small, medium, and large, it can be confusing; every manufacturer is different. What you'll want to make sure your child's shin guards aren't too big and that they meet the national standards. Here's a good rule of thumb: if it covers more than ¾ of your child's shin, it's too big.

  • Mouthguards. While mouthguards have not been shown to effectively prevent concussion, they do decrease the frequency and severity of dental and oral injuries in contact sports. The best mouthguard is one that has been custom made for your child's mouth by his or her dentist. 

  • Protective eyewear. Does your child wear glasses or have a vision problem? Then, it is even more important for him or her to wear eye protection. Approximately 90% of eye injuries are preventable by using appropriate eye protection made of polycarbonate impact-resistant plastic. Fortunately, soccer is considered a moderate-risk sport for eye injuries.

Note: The AAP does not endorse or comment on the effectiveness of specific products or equipment.

Encourage new accomplishments, celebrate little successes, be excited about the ones to come, and do not expect a skill way before its time.


Additional Information:

About Dr. Mjaanes:

Jeff Mjaanes, MD, FAAPJeff Mjaanes, MD, FAAP, serves as the Director of Intercollegiate and Health Service Sports Medicine and Head Team Physician for Northwestern University. Prior to being at Northwestern, he worked as a sports medicine specialist at Rush University in Chicago where he acted as Medical Director for the Chicago Sports Concussion Clinic at Rush and served as team physician for DePaul University and the Chicago Fire MLS team. He has served as team physician for US Soccer and USA Rugby and sits on the Board of Directors for the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE). Within the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Dr. Mjaanes is a member of the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness (COSMF). 

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Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness (COSMF) (Copyright © 2019 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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