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Preventing sports concussions in women's soccer

Photo: Sinclair Broadcast Group

WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) – Football season has arrived and with it, renewed interest in the concussion debate surrounding that sport. There is another youth sport that might not be getting enough attention when it comes to the risk of head injuries, soccer.

Like millions of soccer moms across the country, Rachael Cipoletti was always prepared to help her daughters. Although she ready to seeing the results of a ten-year study that found when it comes to concussions in all scholastic sports, girls soccer poses the highest risk.

"It looks like it's supported by a lot of medical evidence that's coming out, so anything that I'm gonna let my kids do that may increase their chance of any injury, let alone a head injury, is alarming," Rachael Cipoletti said.

Players can hurt their heads in a lot of different ways on a soccer field, engineers and scientists are wrapping their heads around the issue and its causes.

Inside a pioneering sports science lab at Virginia Tech, a group led by Dr. Steve Rowson is investigating concussions and the most effective ways to prevent them.

They just released the first-ever ratings for soccer headgear and said risk in the girl's sport could be reduced by as much as 70 percent with the use of padded headbands.

"Even though on any given play you might be more likely to get hurt playing football, you play soccer more, and that's more exposure and more possibility of getting hurt,” Rowson said.

Ali Krieger plays soccer professionally for Orlando and is one of the few elite women's players who has worn it. But across all levels, the use of protective headgear is almost non-existent.

Olympic and World Cup champion Briana Scurry knows all too well about concussions. A vicious one in 2010 ended her professional career and changed her life.

"I had high levels of anxiety all of a sudden, and complete inability to focus. I actually saw a picture of myself when I was playing in that time and I'm like- I know that's me... but I don't know how, and I don't know if I'm ever going to be that woman again. And it broke my heart. It broke my heart," Scurry said.

She believes that all girls, of all ages, should consider protecting their heads and their futures by wearing headbands.

"If it works and it dissipates the force, I don't see anything wrong with it," Scurry said.

And the science says it works, so why don't more girls wear them? It could be because players see headbands mostly being worn by players who have already suffered a concussion.

"They see it as something has happened that's resulted in them wearing this right now. They're not seeing it as a preventative mechanism. They see it as- something has happened, that’s why they’re wearing this," Cipoletti said.

It might just take a rules change to change the dinner table conversation about wearing padded headbands.

"If it were required then yes, I would force them to, just like I force them to wear their shin guards," Cipoletti said.

And without the next generation of soccer stars embracing head protection as the new normal, the worry is that concussions may continue to plague one of the nation's most popular youth sports.

Some rules changes have been implemented in recent years. The U.S. Soccer Federation banned “heading” for children ten and under, but there’s no sign that protective headgear will be a mandated anytime soon.

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