Soccer helmets: Good idea or way too goofy?
Almost every week, there's another report of an athlete sidelined by a concussion, or a scientific study detailing the dangers of a head injury in about every sport. Short of pulling him from the game, you want to protect your child and reduce the risk of injury. In the case of soccer, this might mean a helmet. Yes, a soccer helmet.
In recent years, we have become more aware of the repercussions of head injuries. What was once referred to as "getting your bell rung" is now understood to be a much more serious injury that needs monitoring and management. Recent studies that correlate head impacts in soccer and concussion have lead to some parents and officials to call for consistent use of soccer helmets and other safety equipment to help prevent such injuries. Your child's school or league may even be considering making soccer helmet use mandatory.
A what for soccer?
Yes, a helmet for soccer -- although a better term would be "protective headgear." It's not a helmet in the bicycle or ski helmet sense: it's not hard-shelled. Rather, it's softer -- more sweatband-like -- providing padding around the head while not restricting movement or vision.
Will it make a difference?
It might. Soccer is one of the few sports with intentional, regular head-to-ball contact -- the header. Soccer also frequently includes inadvertent head-to-head contact, head-to-ground contact, head-to-goalpost contact and head-to-other-body-part contact (elbow, for example). A 2005 British study showed a 33 percent reduction of impact force from head-to-head impacts when protective headgear was used. Soccer helmets appear to be most beneficial in reducing injury from non-ball-to-head contact, rather than headers, however.
As with any helmet in any sport, it's designed to reduce injury risk -- but does not guarantee safety or no injury. The only guarantee of your child not being injured playing a sport is not playing at all.
Getting over the goofies
If you choose to have your child wear protective headgear during soccer, you are not alone. Whether it's to reduce likelihood of an initial head injury or used post-head injury (in an effort to reduce risk of secondary impact syndrome) so your child can get back in the game, soccer helmet use is increasing. Although your child might resist wearing it at first -- it looks goofy, he says, and no one else is wearing them -- if this is the requirement for playing at all, he'll adjust. There are professional soccer players now using such headgear, too: Petr Cech, for example.
Although there's no guarantee your child will never sustain a concussion on the soccer pitch, specialized protective headgear for soccer can give you some peace of mind that injury risk can be reduced. Finding the balance between goofy and safety can be tricky, however. Only you can decide if a soccer helmet for your child goes too far.