Of all the contact sports that pose a risk to the health of young athletes, none cause the significant concern or garner the intense media scrutiny of football. There's a good reason for that; playing on the gridiron brings with it a far greater risk of concussion or head injury than any other sport for school-aged athletes.
What is surprising, however, is the sport that carries, by far, the second-greatest health risk to its young competitors: Girls soccer.
When not focused on football, media headlines about the health risks of youth sports tend to gravitate towards more traditional American contact sports like hockey or lacrosse. Yet a series of new studies prove conclusively that those sports can't hold a candle to girls soccer, which has been at the vanguard of a steep rise in pediatric concussion cases between 2001 and 2010 -- by an astounding 58 percent -- according to a study by Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, as pointed out by Off the Bench.
The logical next step is to determine what about soccer -- and girls soccer in particular -- is most responsible for the steep rise in concussions among its competitors. Researchers believe the answer to that question is more simple: Children are getting concussions from heading the soccer ball. In fact, another study by Yeshiva University's Albert Einstein College of Medicine has even shown that excessive heading of soccer balls can cause brain damage.
To counter that threat, one Massachusetts doctor -- Dr. Bob Cantu of Emerson Hospital -- has stepped forward with a radical solution, which he shared with the NBC News program "Rock Central": He wants to ban heading the ball altogether.
Naturally, banning headers would completely change the way soccer is played. Without headers, players would be forced to play with the ball solely on the ground, and while some purists might laud that approach -- think of it as the Barcelona-ization of American youth soccer -- it also would conceivably put the American developmental system even further behind other global competitors, as athletes would have to quickly adapt to traditional soccer rules once they reach the age of professional or international youth competition.
It goes without saying that Dr. Cantu's proposed solution to the rising number of youth concussions is unlikely to receive large-scale support.
Still, if nothing else, Cantu has helped raise awareness of a strange trend in an issue that remains on the national front burner, perhaps stoking other creative solutions that can make America's most popular youth sport safer for the masses.