Concussions are becoming an increasingly visible injury in soccer. In the U.S., efforts to reduce the frequency of concussions and ensure they are properly treated have been implemented from the youth to professional level. For example, the Major League Soccer concussion protocol calls for a player to be removed from the field and be immediately evaluated by a doctor for concussion symptoms.
Of course, the implementation of the protocol is imperfect and at times players who seem like they should be substituted due to a concussion continue playing. Partly this is due to the difficulty of making concussion diagnoses in a highly charged match atmosphere, but also because of the desire of players to stay in a game even if they are injured.
Changing how concussions are perceived by players is a key step to ensuring player safety when it comes to the injury. U.S. Soccer is continuing a push to address the injury with the Recognize to Recover program to teach youth players about concussions and the danger that they pose to their overall health. Beginning next week, 17,000 youth players in the Boys’ and Girls’ Development Academy will take the #TTPledge in a collaboration with ThinkTaylor being presented by Thorne. The pledge is an oath that youth athletes will swear to promising to be educated about concussion symptoms, be honest about their self-evaluation, and support those who suffer a concussion.
U.S. Soccer Chief Medical Officer George Chiampas gave further details about the program saying, “We're looking forward to this partnership between Recognize to Recover and ThinkTaylor as we continue to connect with youth players across the United States about their health and safety." He went on to discuss how players need to be taught early on that concussions are a serious health issue and that beliefs about the injury need to change noting that, "An important part of managing concussions is making sure that players are educated on how to identify when a possible head injury occurs, and are empowered to inform their parents and coaches. We want to change the culture within the game around reporting concussions and that needs to start at an early age."
The Recognize to Recover program was created in 2015 as a comprehensive health and safety initiative. Medical experts provided guidance on the program which engages coaches, players, parents, and referees about how to handle, prevent, and treat injuries. Last year, USSF developed a video that highlights concussions and the role that everyone involved in the sport needs to play in order to address them.
Former US Men’s National Team player Taylor Twellman also appears in the video. He was forced to retire due to post-concussion syndrome and in 2011 founded the ThinkTaylor organization to change the culture around concussions and develop new ways of talking about and treating the injury.
He discussed times he hid injuries and the impact it had on his career saying, "There were times in my career I wasn't honest with my coaches, my parents, my teammates, and it only made things worse." The program focuses on diagnosing the injury as the first step in recovery, as Twellman noted, “When you recognize the signs and symptoms of a concussion and you do something about it, you are already on the road to recovery. That's why it's so important to me that athletes are educated and honest about concussions. We only have one brain and it needs to last a lifetime."
The campaign coincides with the start of the 2017-2018 Development Academy season which will also feature a first for the Girls’ Development Academy: a live broadcast for a match. On September 2nd, the game between Sky Blue PDA and FC Virginia will be live streamed at 11:00 AM on the US Soccer Development Academy Facebook page. A week later on September 9th, the Boys Development Academy will stream a match between Crew SC Academy and Crew SC Academy Wolves also on the Facebook page.