Sport concussion can affect athletes of all levels out of the game, but these brain injuries can have serious consequences on those playing at high school level. These young athletes are more likely than are adults to experience sports concussions, and preteens and teens often take longer to recover. What’s more, athletes who have experienced one concussion is likely to sustain another one.
Each year, the National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study collects injury data on nine common high school sports: baseball, volleyball, boys basketball and girls basketball, softball, wrestling, boys soccer and girls soccer, and football.
Analysis of the 2018-2019 school year shows that concussions still occur regularly in both male and female athletes in high school sports. While concussions can occur during almost any activity, some high school sports are associated with a higher incidence of sports concussions than are other sports.
Analysis of the data shows different concussion rates between males and female athletes, even within the same sport. Concussions were incurred during different activities within the same sport.
High School Athletics Closely Associated with Sports Concussion
High school football account for 38.9 percent of all sports-related concussions among high school athletes. Most concussions – 68 percent – were incurred during competition, while 32 percent occurred during practice. About half occurred during running plays.
Line-backers were the most likely among defensive players to sustain a concussion in football while running backs were the most likely among offensive players to experience a concussion.
Sports concussions among female high school soccer players outpaces those among their male counterparts, with 48,402 of these concussions occurring in female athletes and 31,061 in males.
Most concussions occur while heading the ball, which is when the athlete hits the ball with their head rather than with their feet.
Nearly two-thirds of concussions in this sport are incurred during takedown, which involves bringing the opponent to the ground with the attacker lying on top. Concussions account for 19.5 percent of all wrestling injuries.
At 17,143 to 9,187 total concussions among players, high school girls who play basketball suffer significantly more concussions than do their male counterparts. Female athletes are more likely to suffer concussions during practice too, while male athletes experience the greater number of concussions during competition.
Nearly 30 percent of concussions of the female athletes who sustained concussions did so while defending the ball, compared with just over 25 percent of the male players. A little more than half of concussions were the result of collisions between female players; about 13 percent of concussions in male players happened while chasing a loose ball.
Concussions accounted for 14.2 percent of all injuries associated with high school softball. At 70.7 percent compared to 29.3 percent, most concussions occurred during competition rather than during practice. Nearly 18 percent of concussions occurred when fielding batted balls, while 14 percent occurred while fielding throws.
Concussions from practice slightly outpaced concussions from competition, at 50.8 and 49.2 percent, respectively. Most of these concussions (about 36 percent) occurred during digging, which is a defensive move in which a player moves low to the ground and puts their arms together to deflect the volleyball into the air. Serving, which is the act of putting the ball into play to start the volley, is responsible for about half the number of concussions at 16 percent. Setting is associated with the least number of concussions.
At 4,857 total concussions during the 2018-19 school year, high schoolers who played baseball sustained fewer concussions than did student athletes playing other sports. In baseball, a sports concussion is more likely to occur during competition rather than during practice. About half of these concussions occurred while fielding the ball; 26 percent happened when a pitch hit the batter.
While it is impossible to prevent all sports concussions that happen to athletes, it is possible to reduce the number of sports concussions occurring in teens and preteens participating in high school sports. Properly fitting, sport-appropriate headgear and safety equipment can help, as can good coaching methods and effective concussion protocols.