Katherine Snedaker: A concussion specialist’s take on awareness, education and U.S. Soccer’s header guidelines

It was a fall day in 2008 and like many children, Charlie Snedaker was outside for recess at Roton Middle School in Norwalk, Conn.


Charlie was unsuspectingly struck in the head by a rogue soccer ball on Oct 27. The the impact resulted in a concussion and countless headaches that kept the sixth grader at home for the next three-and-a-half months; he wasn’t allowed to return to school until his headaches subsided.

Charlie returned to school, but only lasted a month before he hurt his head again and was forced back home.

“The doctors we went to didn’t have great answers,” his mother, Katherine, said. “I did almost everything wrong — I took him on our boat, in the sun; basically we did a whole bunch of things we shouldn’t have done.

“We learned by trial and error.”

Charlie, now a freshman in college, has had 10 concussions. Katherine has had “double digits” since she was 16 years old.

Because of her son’s troubles, Katherine, a Licensed Master Social Worker, began to educate herself on the subject by talking to experts, attending conferences and reading as much as she could. Snedaker founded SportsCAPP.com — a Concussions (be) Aware and Prepared Program for parents, kids, coaches and more. Snedaker blogs about concussions, speaks at awareness events and offers training on the matter.

Snedaker, who is currently on the third week of yet another concussion, said concussions are unique to individuals and even then, become like snowflakes — no one incident and reaction is the same.

“People assume if you don’t want to have anymore (concussions) that if you leave whatever sport you’re doing you’ll be safe, but the research I did talking to over 520 women who were athletes, 50 percent continued to concuss after they retired from sports. Once you’ve had one, you’re at risk to have others. I think there are people who are more sensitive to them than others. Women concuss at a higher rate than men and learning disabilities are higher risk factors, too. Each person’s profile is different and we keep trying to find a magic (cure) that fits everyone. Even within the same person concussions are different.”

With her personal history of concussions and her family’s — Snedaker has three active boys — Snedaker said she was was pleased to read about the latest step being taken to prevent concussions. On Nov. 9, U.S. Soccer resolved a lawsuit and set forth new guidelines for youth players heading the ball.

Per the FIFA Settlement:

“U.S. Soccer recommends that players in U11 programs and younger shall not engage in heading, either in practices or in games.

“U.S. Soccer further recommends for players in U12 and U13 programs, that heading training be limited to a maximum of 30 minutes per week with no more than 15-20 headers per player, per week.

“All coaches should be instructed to teach and emphasize the importance of proper techniques for heading the ball.”

Snedaker believes these guidelines — though not laws — are a step in the right direction for soccer.

“If everyone is educated that’s the best scenario,” she said. “I think football and hockey have made big strides, and so has baseball. I think soccer was the outlier. This was basically to get them back on track with everyone else. Other sports organizations have moved much faster on this topic than they did and it’s too bad they had to get sued to act.

“I’m happy they’re on board though.”

Like everything in life, there is a risk when playing sports, Snedaker said. Her son’s concussions have come from a variety of “life” activities — skateboarding, lacrosse, hitting his head accidentally at Home Depot, inadvertly getting kicked while horsing around with his brothers.

While many of these events can’t be prevented unless kids are packaged in bubble wrap, Snedaker’s biggest piece of advice comes from personal experience.

“Parents need to educate themselves and take responsibility for their kids,” she said.

Here are a few links to educational tools Snedaker uses on her website:

VIDEO #1: Why you need to be educated?

VIDEO #2: What you need to know

VIDEO #3: How best to recover after a concussion

The app to have on your phone when a possible concussion happens


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