Make soccer safer

By David Schwartz

Josh Shore, 23, of Newark, Del. has been playing soccer almost his entire life. Growing up in southeastern Pennsylvania, Shore played for numerous club teams and was captain of his soccer team at Garnet Valley High School in Glen Mills, Pa.

Throughout his athletic career, Shore has succumbed to multiple concussions. Most of the concussions were from soccer, along with a few from hockey and lacrosse. Officially, he has been diagnosed with eight of them. “I might have had more,” Shore said as he explained his history of concussions.

As he entered his 20’s, his symptoms of concussions persisted over time. By late 2015, he was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome. Prior to being diagnosed, Shore experienced memory loss, anxiety, and random mood swings.

During the fall semester of 2015 at Delaware Technical Community College, Shore had to withdraw to start treatment as soon as possible. “I’ve had to miss school for a week or two at a time,” Shore said. He was also told by his doctor that he would no longer be allowed to play contact sports, including soccer.

Shore is one of many young athletes who is currently dealing with post-concussion syndrome. The U.S. Soccer Federation has been raising awareness on the issue of concussions and how they can affect the lives of players during and after their athletic career.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 3.8 million concussions occur in the United States annually through sports and recreational activities, but only 5-10 percent are diagnosed.

According to the CDC, a concussion, which is also called a traumatic brain injury, is caused by a blow to the head that disrupts the normal function of the brain. The severity of a concussion can range from “mild” to “severe.”

The CDC explains that symptoms include memory loss, headaches, blurry vision, nausea, dizziness, sensitivity to noise, balance problems, anxiety, depression, and irritability. A number of these symptoms will show up right away, but others may not be noticed until days or months after a concussion.

According to the Weill Cornell Concussion and Brain Injury Clinic, symptoms for post-concussion syndrome will include short-term memory loss, difficulty concentrating or completing tasks, and feeling “slower,” along with the symptoms of a regular concussion. Long-term effects of concussions are still being studied.

The Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center has stated that individuals who continue to report symptoms of a concussion months after the initial brain injury have exhibited emotional distress and poor physical functioning.

In 2014, the Concussion Legacy Foundation helped launch the Safer Soccer Campaign. They stated that their mission is to educate parents and coaches on the benefits of delaying the introduction of headers, which means hitting the ball with your head, until high school.

According to the Concussion Legacy Foundation, attempting to head the ball and colliding is the number one risk of concussions in youth soccer, causing more than 30,000 concussions each year. That is nearly one third of all concussions in youth soccer.

In November 2015, U.S. Soccer adopted a series of safety initiatives aimed at addressing concussions in youth soccer, including rules that prohibit players ages ten and under from heading the ball and the reduction of headers in practice for 11 to 13-year-old players.

“These guidelines are a major victory for the Safer Soccer campaign and a fantastic first step in making the world’s most popular sport safer to play for children,” Concussion Legacy Foundation Director Chris Nowinski said. “Together the supporters of the Safer Soccer campaign showed there is widespread support for the elimination of headers for children and U.S. Soccer heard our message.”

Along with the new guidelines in place for youth soccer, the struggles of Shore and many other athletes with post-concussion syndrome are raising awareness in the continued efforts to reduce concussions in organized sports.

After getting the help that he needed, Shore was able to return to school the next year and further pursue his studies.

Shore continues to suffer from symptoms of post-concussion syndrome every day and has missed class on several occasions. He is still taking medication and is being evaluated on a monthly basis.

Although he is not allowed to play contact sports, Shore has learned how to play golf over the last year. He has been playing at various courses with his friends in Delaware and southeastern Pennsylvania and has been improving his game.

“It sucks not being able to play soccer anymore, but since golf is basically the only sport I can play now, I decided to give it a shot,” Shore said. “It’s helped me feel better.”

Contact David Schwartz at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu