Yesterday’s concurrent session “Confronting Concussions” was led by Brandi Chastain, a two-time Women’s World Cup soccer champion and Olympic medalist. Chastain is currently co-leader of the Safer Soccer initiative, which was launched to educate parents, coaches and soccer stakeholders on the benefits of delaying the introduction of headers in youth soccer until high school. On the heels of U.S. Soccer’s recent ban on headers for children ages 10 and younger, Chastain provided some insight on what this change means for youth sports and her own personal experience with heading.
How did you get involved with Safer Soccer?
I was introduced to Dr. Robert Cantu and Chris Nowinski through the Institute of Sports Law and Ethics, which I’m a member of the board. They really sparked an interest for me about what I could do that would leave soccer in a better place. So I jumped on the chance to help take heading out of youth soccer to protect some kids.
U.S. Soccer recently banned headers for children ages 10 and under. What are your thoughts on the new rule change?
I’m happy that U.S. Soccer is now commenting on concussions and that they’re recognizing that there is an issue, but we’re not satisfied with the age limit. That’s why we’ll continue to push until it gets to a little older age. Physiologically, in that puberty stage, kids start to develop more so if we can get them [U.S. Soccer] to a little higher age, that’s our goal.
It seems like we’ve only recently started having conversations about contact sports and head trauma. Why now?
Lawsuits. People have sued big institutions like the NFL. It’s inevitable. It just has become too many. Before it was maybe one or two or nobody talked about it. They didn’t know what was happening or understand the symptoms and so they didn’t equate it with something specific like concussions or CTE [chronic traumatic encephalopathy] or traumatic brain injury. So now that we know, we can say more unequivocally “I’ve had a concussion” or “This is what a concussion looks like.”
What has been your personal experience with heading?
Oh, I loved heading. I was the one who wanted to be most brave—diving headers, very high punts. I took pride in the fact that I could head the ball and my teammates counted on me in those moments. And I honestly believed within the last 10 years that if taught correctly, you would be safer, and I still believe that there is some truth to that. But now knowing what I know and having been exposed to the Concussion Legacy Foundation, it’s more mysterious than we ever thought.
When I started playing soccer 41 years ago, nobody knew anything about concussions. And to be honest with you, I’ve never been diagnosed with a concussion but I am absolutely positive I’ve had my fair share, meaning six to 12 times that I can actually remember getting hit and going down.
If there is a lot that we still don’t know, how can we get ahead of the issue?
We have to be proactive about who gets to do it. Those who are younger are the most at risk due to their lack of physical maturity, and we have the responsibility to make sure we protect them. It’s not to say that we shouldn’t protect adults either, but they are less at risk than children because they’re more mature physically and mentally. That said, there is still risk. But at least structurally they’re more prepared than younger people.