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Doctor Calls for Three-Concussion Limit on Youth Soccer Players

Should youth soccer players and other young athletes playing contact sports be limited to a "three concussions and you're out (for good)" policy? One Australian expert thinks so.

Dr. Jeffery Rosenfeld, the director of neurosurgery at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, recently appeared on an Australian news program about the dangers of concussions for athletes, particularly in their younger years. Rosenfeld suggested that once an athlete endures "three significant concussions," he'd be "a bit wary of that player" ever returning to the field for contact sports.

"They can still play sport but perhaps not the rough and tumble and risk associated with the tackling in a contact sport like [soccer]," he said.

As we've covered extensively here on Schooled in Sports, there's reason to be extra careful with younger athletes when it comes to head injuries. A study published earlier this year in the journal Brain Injury suggested that teenagers often feel the effects of concussions more severely than younger children (ages 9-12) and adults. A study published late last year in the journal Pediatrics also found teens and girls more likely than younger children to suffer headaches months after suffering a concussion.

With a 2011 study from the journal Brain Pathology suggesting that suffering even one brain injury (such as a concussion) may cause long-term damage, the mantra of "better safe than sorry" comes to mind when it comes to protecting the heads of young athletes.

Rosenfeld has some company when it comes to calling for certain limits regarding head injuries. The Boston-based Sports Legacy Institute released a white paper earlier this year calling for all youth-sports organizations to alter their playing rules and limit the amount of head contact student-athletes endure. Specifically, they suggested putting all athletes under the age of 18 on a "hit count."

In terms of soccer, there have been specific concerns raised in recent months about the practice of "heading," thanks to a 2011 study suggesting that "repetitive heading" could ultimately lead to "degeneration of brain cells." While a New York-based pediatrician urged caution in conclusively linking headers and brain injuries, Dr. Robert Cantu, director of sports medicine at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Mass., told NBC's Rock Center that he believes heading should be eliminated for youth soccer players younger than 14.

Cantu has previously made similar comments about not allowing young athletes to play U.S. tackle football or ice hockey until they're 14, barring substantial rule changes.

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