How Do You Protect Athletes from Themselves?

Top athletes are known for their competitive spirit, but sometimes the very thing that drives them to win also puts them in danger. As The New York Times recently reported, soccer players and other athletes sometimes endanger their health, and even their lives, by playing with injuries.

Soccer star Ali Krieger is an example of just how easy it is to be knocked out of action by an injury. On April 10, she went for a header and ended up suffering a concussion. She was unconscious before she even hit the ground, but was already trying to decide just how badly she was injured from the moment she woke up in the grass.

Krieger told the Times that she thought the injury was minor and comparable to one she’d suffered in 2013. She planned to be back in action within a couple of weeks and did resume training fairly quickly, although she’s since left her team, the Washington Spirit, to prepare for the World Cup as part of the national team.

Playing Through the Pain

The problem of players’ head injuries hit the spotlight at last year’s World Cup when Christoph Kramer of the German team got such a severe concussion that he had to be escorted off the field after staggering around and trying to continue to play for 14 minutes. According to The Times, he admitted that he didn’t even remember much of that play time.

Alecko Eskandarian, a former U.S. soccer star, was yet another case of an injured player staying on the field for too long. His first concussion knocked him out cold, yet he was still allowed to return to the game. He told the Times, “It was like an airplane on cruise control. The plane is flying, but the pilot’s not there. Knowing what I know now, I was very fortunate not to get hit again. As a player, you put your trust in the doctors and trainers to evaluate you and take care of you. In that way, they really let me down.”

A Long Term Price

The debilitating after effects of several concussions eventually forced Eskandarian to retire. Unfortunately, cases like his and Kramer’s haven’t done much to reduce the risks, since the decision on whether a player is fit after a head injury is typically left to the player and coach. The “win at all costs” mindset often results in a decision to play that flies in the face of the player’s best interests. With coaches wanting their best players back in the game, there’s no one to look out for the athlete whose judgment is impaired by a nasty blow to the head.

Children playing soccer are at risk, too. The sport is one of the leading causes of kids’ concussions, according to a recent PBS show, and now some neurosurgeons and professional players are recommending that youngsters be prohibited from doing headers. Not only do kids face the typical risks, but their developing brains are even more vulnerable than those of adults.

Protecting Kids

How can you keep your children safe if they love the sport enough to continue even when they’re injured? Here are three tips:

  1. Have your child use protective hear like helmets and head guards. Neurologist Dr. Robert Cantu told PBS that protective equipment doesn’t offer a lot of protection, but it does provide a bit of a buffer.
  2. Have your child do exercises to strengthen his or her neck muscles. According to Cantu, stronger muscles help avoid injury.
  3. Pull your child out of the game immediately and get a check-up if a head injury occurs. Such injuries will be part of the game until headers are banned, and it’s impossible for a parent of coach to properly assess an injured youngster. Competitive children will likely downplay their injuries because they want to get back into the action. No matter how minor a head injury seems, make sure your coach has a policy of taking the child out of the game and having the parents seek medical attention.

Sports are good for kids, both physically and mentally, but they’ll always carry some risks. It’s not good to keep your child out of activities like soccer because of the potential for injuries, but it’s critical to get proper care if he or she gets hurt. That’s true of any injury, but especially a possible concussion because of the dire consequences of letting a brain injury go untreated.