Does protective headgear help?

The risk of concussions in sports has become an increasingly important topic over the years. American football is facing a crisis in this area, triggered by a recent Frontline documentary (click here to watch), but other sports have to look closely at concussions too.

While not nearly as violent as American football, soccer is nevertheless classified as a high- to moderate-intensity contact sport. The good news is that this contact rarely involves the head, but heading the ball during a game is common and there are times when players challenging for an incoming ball will knock heads together. Another way to get a concussion is when a player’s body suddenly and violently changes direction after an impact with another player. In these cases the head can snap backwards or sideways, which causes the brain to impact the skull and hence possibly lead to a concussion.

One very recent authoritative study (click here) completed a retrospective analysis of data collected from mid-2005 through mid-2014 in a large, nationally representative sample of boys and girls who were high school soccer players. Overall, around 500 concussions were sustained by each gender during around 1.5 million games and practices. (This is arguably encouragingly low, but I suspect that many concussions went un-diagnosed and/or un-reported.).

By far the most common cause of concussions in soccer is a head-to-head (or head-to-elbow) collision. The second most common cause of concussions is when a ball strikes a player’s head, BUT only when a player was hit in the head by a ball kicked from close range such as an attempted shot on goal. The player simply did not have time to react and the ball might impact more vulnerable areas such as the temple. It’s important to note that concussions from simply heading a ball are rare.

So, naturally, we as parents might be tempted to force our kids to wear protective headgear such as the Full90 product. Some padding on the head should help, right?

Well, turns out that these kinds of headgear appear to offer no measurable protection against concussions and might actually increase the risk because players apparently tend to play more aggressively with headgear.

That said,  I suspect that this isn’t necessarily so for every personality type. For example, ‘softer’ kids might not change their behavior whereas more naturally athletic/aggressive kids might well step it up even more.

I have listed below a number of articles I found especially informative, but you MUST definitely watch the following ten-minute NBC News report in its entirety: CLICK HERE.

The risk of injury, including potentially suffering one or more concussions over the years, is unavoidable in contact sports. Maybe future equipment and, possibly, rules modifications will help reduce this risk, but as parents and players we have to accept this as part of the risk/reward decision we have to make.

Disclaimer: please keep in mind that I’m not a doctor nor scientific researcher. Just a dad sharing his personal observations. Please also note that this post focuses on concussions and not on other types of injuries such as bruising or scrapes.

Additional background reading:

Can Headgear Halt Soccer Concussions?

Use of headgear at recent Women’s World Cup

Helmets for soccer? Why some parents are saying no thanks.

Review of Full90 Headgear

Soccer Headgear: Does It Do Any Good?

The Efficacy of Soccer Headgear

How can we keep young soccer players safe?

Author: James

Lifelong player and student of the beautiful game in Germany, England, and USA. Volunteer futsal coach and USSF referee.

3 thoughts on “Does protective headgear help?”

  1. I have my boys wearing the head gear and I’ve seen a lot of these articles and ones similar to it.
    Head to head is the biggest issue, head to post is the 2nd, head to foot or knee also happens.
    For Futsal, head to floor is the biggest issue.
    I doubt there’s a signifcant benefit for heading a ball, so agree with the posts on that part.
    There’s about a dozen boys I know wearing them these days. I don’t see any difference in aggression at all so I doubt that conclusion has much basis. I think that is a generalization from american football where helmets do have a history of being used as a weapon.

    While I don’t believe it would prevent a concussion in a severe collision, I do believe it would lessen the effect and prevent injuries in less serious collisions. I have seen a couple of instances of a player hitting his head on the gym floor with it on and not having an injury (which would have been the case without it).

    I also have firsthand experience with headgear in baseball…and one concussion suffered from being hit where the helmet didn’t cover pretty much ended my baseball playing days. I had been hit several other times on the helmet with no problem or noticeable pain.


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