Talk about irony: the same week that Rock Center with Brian Williams aired a story about a growing “concussion crisis” in girls’ soccer, I also got the curriculum for my 11-year-old daughter Maya’s soccer practice: “Heading (attacking and defensive situations, being brave).”
I definitely watched the Rock Center story with concern. Research shows that girls report twice as many concussions as boys in sports they both play.
The report aired Wednesday, and Maya practiced heading on Thursday. On Sunday we sat on the sidelines watching Maya’s team face off against a northern New Jersey opponent. The girls fought to control the ball, with neither team clearly dominating.
Then, as if in slow motion, I watched the ball sail through the air toward Maya at midfield. She stepped into the ball, leaned forward, and headed it toward the goal. Of course, she was fine. I’m sure she felt pleased with herself for putting the new technique into play in a game situation. To be honest, I was pleased myself, although anxious at the same time.
And here are the questions I’ve been turning over since the game: is this “crisis” one that should change the game of youth soccer for girls? Should heading be banned? One expert in the Rock Center story, Bob Cantu, the director of sports medicine at Emerson Hospital in Concord, MA suggests that it should, because “girls as a group have far weaker necks.”
Naturally I take concussions seriously and would not want to do anything that could jeopardize Maya’s health. But I’m not sure I buy this so-called crisis. For one thing, the research draws on data from high school athletes. How much can we generalize from that population to the nearly 1.5 million girls who play youth soccer in the US every year?
What’s more, is this thinking about girls’ weakness that much different from earlier arguments suggesting women shouldn’t be educated because our brains are smaller than men’s? Or that women shouldn’t walk alone at night because we face the threat of rape?
It seems to me that ideas about “protection” are often a guise for social constraints on women and girls. What athletic opportunities would we curtail in the name of “safety” for girls?
For now, at least, I want Maya to practice “being brave,” and if that means heading the ball, I’ll be cheering her on.
But GWP readers, what do you think? How do you think about “risk” and “safety” for your daughters or sons?