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Concussion Headbands – Soccer Concussion Safety

Soccer concussion safety continues to be a top priority for parents, coaches and leaders in youth soccer. Concussion headbands, also called concussion head guards, are being seen more often on the soccer fields.  While the research on the effectiveness of concussion headbands continues to emerge, it's a  safety precaution many parents are taking for their players.  Understandably, there is a lot of stress and fear surrounding soccer concussions.

To learn more about soccer concussion safety and concussion headbands, we sat down with Claudio Storelli, Founder of Storelli Sports. Claudio has a Ph.D. in Bio Physics from Yale and is Industrial Designer, former soccer player, and current soccer parent. His line of protective gear and concussion headbands is seen all over the soccer fields.

This conversation was part of Goalkeeper Week at Soccer Parenting. While concussion safety is an important consideration for youth soccer goalkeepers, this conversation is relevant across all sports. Claudio and I discuss the research that has been done of the efficacy of concussion headbands and precautions we can take when it comes to soccer concussions.  The transcript is below.

TRANSCRIPT:

Skye:

Welcome to Goalkeeper Week and a conversation with Claudio Storelli, who is the founder of Storelli Sports. So excited to have you here. We've talked about protective gear and in this conversation I want to take a moment and have a really thoughtful conversation about your head guard and bigger than that, just about the concept of head protection, which is certainly a new thing as far as I'm concerned. None of this was available when I was playing back in the day. I've read the University of Wisconsin studies that were done from the university setting that were really well supported studies, and your headgear ranks towards the top of those studies. So just kind of tell us about this product line, the evolution of it, and most specifically and importantly, like what the safety studies and reports are saying so that parents know what to look for when they're making decisions for this for their children.

If you are interested in our other Goalkeeper Week content curated specifically for youth soccer parents, you can check it all out at the Library at SoccerParentResourceCenter.com.

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Claudio Storelli:

Sure. So having developed a brand that specializes on protection, we get a lot of feedback from parents and players about the areas that they want to protect, and the head honestly wasn't in our radar to start. Especially because coming from Europe, there's a lot less awareness about concussion in European sports for obvious reasons, you don't have hockey and football etc. So when we started looking at how we will craft something that will work, we started looking at what is causing the damage and how do we prevent it? So there's two types of potential injuries in soccer due to head injuries. One is head-to-head collision, and the other, which is a lot trickier, is due to heading the ball. The head-to-head collision are the injuries that are more reported on because they're very clear, tend to be rather clear. Two players tend to clash, and then you can see that one of them is injured.

The heading in the ball seems to have a lot more longer term repercussions, and luckily it's a lot less frequent for goalkeepers. So for our category, it's a little bit less of a problem, but it's an area that is right now really much at the cutting edge. And I can talk to what we're doing in terms of studies and in terms of product development in that area. But in terms of head-to-head collisions, the studies show that the percentage of, especially in girls, the percentage of concussions is quite high. It's about double that for men. And we know that when a concussion happens, there can be a really long-lasting impact. And so we decided to work on something that will be... It wouldn't create a negative stigma for the player wearing it, which is a big part of it, right? Because you don't want to wear something really bulky, especially for girls, but at the same time, effective.

So what we did is we partnered with the company that makes all the military helmets for the US Navy SEALs. We work with them to develop a foam that will be extremely protective in head-to-head collisions. And when we tested it, we saw that it was outperforming everything else on the market. Later on, University of Wisconsin Medicine actually ended up running a large field study with 3000 players over the course of two years. And what the study showed is that the average head protection, which most people don't even know because there's only a very few small brands, but the study wanted to be inclusive. So they included in equal sample sets, many different brands, doesn't really seem to have a statistically significant impact.

But our headgear actually as a standalone product ended up having a statistically positive impact, which means that the risk ratio is really decreased if you wear our headgear, especially in girls. So we are the only product that has any real clinical validation because these studies are almost impossible to conduct as a single brand. But we know that a lot more needs to be done on the education level, and we are proponents of doing more studies both for head-to-head collisions and for heading on the ball.

Skye:

When a parent is looking to purchase headgear for their child, what do they need to be considering? What are the considerations that you're thinking about when you're designing? You said sort of the size, the bulkiness of it, is it consideration, the fit? I mean, what are the different qualities that somebody needs to be considering?

Claudio:

Well, first of all, one of the really good insights that came out of the study of Wisconsin is that there is no negative impact to wearing headgear. Sometimes when I will speak to coaches, sometimes players, they will say, oh, but then the kids will start ramming each other with their heads. If you've ever played soccer, that's not true. You're going to break your nose and nobody will do that. So the study was definitive about that. There's no downside, there's no more ankle injuries or any sort of type. There's no aggressive behavior that comes for it. So first of all, if you're leaning towards safety, wearing something is better than not wearing something. Then once you go and you look at the different products, I think a lot of it has to do with one, the quality of the protection themselves.

And again, the only study that you can really reference are the Virginia Tech helmet guides. So that tends to rank all the different head guards, and I will just go for five star rated products. Honestly, if you go below, you end up using materials that are really questionable. So I wouldn't do that. And they tend to be older generation products.

And then I will look at how it fits on the head and the level of comfort. It's natural for any player, especially older, not to be super excited to wear it, but there's now good examples of players even at the professional level wearing it. We sponsor one of them. She was a rookie of the year a couple of years ago. And she wears it own her own accord. She was already wearing it and then we started working together. And if you watch videos of her scoring, and she plays on the same team with Megan Rapinoe. So oftentimes you see the two of them combining and then scoring, you can see that it looks like a headband effectively.

So we're hoping that in time that look will become more accepted and then that barrier will go away. And then the industry will start focusing on, okay, we know the protection is better than no protection. Let's keep improving technologically so that we can strengthen the body of data that shows that they're very, very positive effects.

Skye:

Yeah, no, so important. And I imagine having those research studies happen, trying to find a third party that can take on the burden financially of the study is hard to do.

Claudio:

It's very hard to do, especially after COVID. A lot of organizations have no funding, and if we were to single-handedly sponsor a study, even if it's done by the best organization, they will accuse us of who knows?

Skye:

Tampering with it.

Claudio:

[inaudible 00:07:20] the impact. So we've been in talks with a few organizations, but unfortunately it's hard and the studies last year, so it's difficult. The ones that is even trickier are the effects on heading the ball. What we've learned that is unique, and I don't think any other brand has really figured out because we've had so much experience in this space, is that because the dynamics of heading the ball are fundamentally different, you need to actually think differently about the protection that you'd create if you want to specifically protect against heading of the ball. So for goalkeepers, you're looking mostly about protection from impact.

Our headgear, I can say with certainty, be safer rather than sorry. Take it you won't be sorry. When it comes to heading the ball, where we look... What we're studying right now, and we're doing two studies, one is actually done in England at a academic institution looking at brain scans before and after heading. And one is being done in our labs is how do you counteract the impact of a body with the ball that actually deforms around the head? And we think we figured out a new design. And so we're excited to develop it and bring it to market over the next couple of years and see whether we can get it adopted, at least on training grounds of EPL teams, where the youth bodies of EPL teams have now banned heading below a certain age, just like in American soccer. But we think that could be avoided if we're able to provide something that is just like a shin guard and you wear, and you know it's proven to absorb the impact of the ball and reduce the risks.

Skye:

No, I love it. I love the fact that you're continuing to be on the cutting edge, first with all of this protective gear that you all are coming out with to empower goalkeepers to be more confident. And now just that you're kind of on the forefront of this research about head protection. So thank you so much for these insights. We've had brief conversations about this in the past, but I loved hearing kind of the full story from you today. So thanks, Claudio for your time.

Claudio:

It's a pleasure. Thanks for having me.


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Skye Eddy


Founder, SoccerParenting.com
Skye is a former All-American goalkeeper, professional player and collegiate coach. She holds her USSF "B" License and USSF National Goalkeeper License and is an active youth coach, soccer parent and coach educator.

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