With fall and soccer season upon us, I find that parents seem to be getting their kicks asking me questions about how to prevent injuries in this sport.  So this week let me pass on some information about soccer safety. 

According to a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, it is estimated that as many as 18 million people are playing soccer in this country and yet 500,000 soccer injuries occur yearly with half of them involving strains and sprains especially when young or inexperienced players collide with each other or the with the ground, ball or goalpost. 

If you want to reduce the risk of injury in your young soccer player here are a few suggestions from the AAP·       

  • Get your child checked out by his or her doctor before the season starts to make sure they do not have any special injury risks.
  • Make sure your children are wearing proper equipment.  This should include protective eyewear if your child wears glasses and mouth and shin guards to reduce the number of head and facial injuries.
  • If a game is going to occur in the rain, water-resistant soccer balls should be used. Waterlogged balls are heavy to kick and that can lead to ankle or foot injuries. 
  • Stretching and a warm-up routine will prevent unnecessary injuries.
  • Secure goalposts – and hopefully use padded ones – as per guidelines from the Consumer Product Safety Commission to reduce the risk of serious head injury.
  • Check the field before a game to make sure there are no holes or irregularities.

Of course coaches play an important role in making soccer safe. They should minimize having players head the ball due to the fact that recurrent heading -at least in adult soccer players – may be associated with mild to severe deficits in attention, concentration, and memory, although his has not been formally studied in children. Heading of the ball should certainly be avoided in children less than ten.

Coaches should also enforce all safety rules and strongly encourage sportsmanship, fair play, and maximum enjoyment for all players.  Violent behavior and infractions of the rules that tend to decrease broad participation in this sport should be strongly discouraged.  Hopefully tips like this will achieve the goal of making youth soccer a fun and safe activity in your neighborhood. 

Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children’s Hospital at the University of Vermont Medical Center and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and on WCAX-TV Channel 3. Visit the First with Kids video archives at http://www.uvmhealth.org/firstwithkids

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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