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Soccer Program Eschews Heading, Eyes 'Heads Up' Concussion Project

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Copyright 2013 Virginian-Pilot Companies LLC
All Rights Reserved

The Virginian-Pilot(Norfolk, VA.)
October 20, 2013 Sunday
CLIPPER FR Edition
Pg. 1
498 words
CONCUSSIONS BEING TRACKED IN YOUTH SPORTS

By Tony Stein

Correspondent

A recent TV ad showing a little boy gleefully "heading" a soccer ball is problematic for the folks who worry about the damage this kind of jolt may cause children with still-growing brains.

And that, says Chesapeake Parks and Recreation director Michael Barber, is why the department discourages youth players using their head instead of their feet.

Barber said there is an increasing emphasis on prevention of sports injuries. The focus has been on concussions, particularly related to football, and Chesapeake is looking at participating in a program called Heads Up: Concussion in Youth Sports. It's a project developed by the federal Center for Disease Control featuring an online training course. There are also other materials designed for coaches, athletes and parents.

The definition of a concussion is scary. The CDC says it's a type of traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head. But the culprit can also be a body blow that causes the head to move quickly back and forth, maybe causing a stretching and tearing of brain cells.

Caution is stressed in both the diagnosis and recovery from a concussion, and the recreation league requires a doctor's release before a youngster can participate again. Fortunately, Barber says, there has not been a head injury reported in recreation league sports in the last two years. He followed those words with a quick knock on wood.

Parks and Rec offers organized soccer, football and basketball for an age range from 5 to 18. About 800 kids participate in each of the spring and fall soccer programs, about 900 in football and about 500 in basketball. Surprisingly, the most injuries occur on the soccer field, Barber said. They're usually bumps and bruises because the players don't wear pads.

There are department staff members with first aid training at every rec league game. Anything more serious gets a call to 911.

Asked about the concerns of 5- and 6-year-olds playing football, Barber said at that level the contacts are more like wrestling.

One complication in youth sports, Barber said, is that today's 12-year-olds, for instance, are bigger and faster. In fact, he told me, it is increasingly common for kids to have personal trainers to hone their skills and physical condition.

Barber talked, too, about an emphasis on friendly competition and sportsmanship. With the younger kids, they might not even keep score. But he did sound one sour note.

"Some spectators can be the worst part of recreation league sports," he said.

He means those who verbally abuse officials and coaches and even the kids. That kind of mouthiness can get you ordered off the field, perhaps banned from attending.

But Barber praised the parents whose dedication does so much to keep the program going. In fact, participation in adult leagues is slipping because the parents are ferrying their children to youth sports events.

"Soccer mom" isn't just a phrase, he said. "It's a commitment."

Tony Stein, steinstuff@aol.com

Michael Barber said there has not been a head injury reported in rec leagues in the last two years.
October 21, 2013

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