Brain Injuries in High School Sports

Every year, 3.8 million sports and recreation-related concussions occur in the United States. TBIs, including concussions, increased by 60 percent in the last decade among children and adolescents, with the highest number occurring during the following activities:

  • Football
  • Basketball
  • Soccer
  • Bicycling
  • Playground activities

Recent research revealed 31 percent of TBIs occurred in a sports facility and 20 percent in a school facility.

Of those who visit the emergency room after a sports-related head injury, 70.5 percent were young adults, ages 10 to 19. For males in that range, the most common activity was football while females most often are treated after playing soccer.

The American Journal of Sport’s Medicine cites more than 20 percent of concussions in basketball and soccer were repeated. In fact, after suffering one concussion a player is three to six times more likely to receive a second. After three concussions, a high schooler experiences heightened risk of unconsciousness, amnesia and confusion.

In more than 50 percent of cases, concussion symptoms clear up within three days and the same percentage is playing again in nine days or less. Three months after their injuries, 30 to 80 percent of players continue to have post-concussion symptoms.

To lessen the risk of concussions, there are simple step coaches and athletic directors can take to ensure the safety of their players:

  • Check the player’s equipment
  • Make sure the player is well-hydrated with easy access to water
  • Be aware of the signs and symptoms of concussions
  • If an athlete suffers from a blow to the head, pull them out immediately for evaluation
  • Before allowing them to play, verify the athlete is cleared by the doctor
  • Educate the players so they understand the dangers involved with head injuries and how to proceed if they notice any symptoms


In 2010, reports estimated 55,000 concussions occur in high school football, representing five percent of all teens who play football. Within a year, the number grew to a reported 67,000 concussions. The New York Times cited research that suggested at least 50 youth football players sustained serious injuries or even died while playing the contact sport.

The American Journal of Sports Medicine confirmed football players suffer the most injuries of any sport. Furthermore, 39 percent of high school and college players suffering from TBIs between 1982 to 2002 were playing with known neurological symptoms when the catastrophic incident occurred.

Between four and 20 percent of high school and college players will suffer from a brain injury during one season.

Note: While many assume helmets are the key to safety, recent research suggests modern helmets do not provide all the support necessary. All the concussions noted in the NFL reinforce the fact that the danger exists, even with supposedly protective equipment.   


Played by more than one million children each year, basketball is the most popular team sport among adolescents. While overall basketball injuries declined 22 percent, TBIs related to the activity increased by 70 percent within the last decade.

Nine percent of sports-related concussions come from children, ages 8 to 19, playing basketball. More and more head injuries in the sport are being reported, making it essential to monitor children for signs and symptoms after a blow to the head.


According to the National Institute of Health, four to eight percent of players suffered from soccer-related concussions. It is believed that 90 percent of concussions in the sport are not reported. Because of this, researchers estimate the percentage closer to 40.

Data from the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine revealed 60 percent of college soccer players experience concussions symptoms during a season.

Head injuries occur from a variety of contacts:

  • When a player’s elbow or head strikes another player’s mid air while fighting for the ball
  • Goalkeepers are kicked in the head or run into a goalpost while trying to make a save
  • General contact between two bodies during the game accelerates the movement of the head in a violent manner
  • The ball can hit the player on the head, jarring the brain


According to The New York Times, the rate of reported concussions in youth hockey is 23.15 per 1,000 player game hours. For reference, concussion rates in the NHL are only 29.59 per 1,000 game hours.

Hockey is second only to football with number of concussions reported. The Mayo Clinic revealed studies indicating 71 percent of athletes with concussions played in the same game after experiencing head trauma.


As one of the fastest-growing sports for high school boys in the US, lacrosse is second only to football and ice hockey for the number of concussions sustained. A recent steady announced the use of helmets in an intentional manner for forceful contact is one of the main culprits.

A study of 34 concussions found all occurred after player-to-player contact, not from the stick or ball. In more than 50 percent of cases, the recipient wasn’t suspecting the hit and therefore defenseless. An additional study found women’s lacrosse to have the second highest amount of concussions behind football, this time primarily from hits with the stick or ball or jarring hits to the body seeing as female lacrosse players do not where helmets.


Following the trend of many teenage athletes, cheerleaders tend to underreport when they sustain a concussion during practice or performance. In general, cheerleading has the highest rate of catastrophic injury across all sports at 66 percent. These injuries involve long-lasting medical conditions, including permanent disability and shortened life expectancy.

Almost 100 percent of all cheerleading concussions occur during a stunt, primarily to the cheerleader at the base or who is spotting someone else. The height involved with many stunts as well as the rotation puts both the flier and the base at risk for concussion during forceful contact.