Virginia Tech Helmet Lab working to test soccer head protection

Published: May. 15, 2017 at 10:01 PM EDT
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Soccer is becoming more and more popular among kids in the U.S. But it's also considered one of the more dangerous sports and now Virginia Tech is trying to fix that.

While the overall risk for concussions is lower than that of football or hockey, researchers at Virginia Tech said there are more concussions per year among soccer players than any other sport.

While research hasn't said what age range is most at risk, ages 10-12, or right around middle school, is seeing the most injuries.

Stefan Duma is an Engineering Professor who works at Virginia Tech and helps run the Helmet Lab.

He explained, "Everyday I get a phone call or an email from a parent who wants to know what soccer headband to buy. So what we've done is developed a study where we can bring those in the lab and test them, and then we can tell consumers which ones are really good and which ones aren't so good."

But how much protection can a headband really provide against a head injury?

Duma said the biggest difference between soccer and other high contact sports is athletes aren't moving as fast. With slower velocity, there's less to protect against.

"The biggest problem in soccer is really head to head, you know two kids go up to head a ball, they miss it, they head each other," he explained. "So a little bit of padding there goes a long way."

But it won't just be ranking the more than 20 different headband options available today on the market.

With this testing, Duma and his team could create a perfect soccer head protector.

"We developed the system of tests, they understand how that's performed, and then they can optimize their design to reduce risk," Duma said. "That's a primary goal of our activities is to help the manufacturers make better products."

He added Virginia Tech doesn't work with the manufacturers during the testing. All products are bought at sticker value from the store and the companies have no input.

That makes it an unbiased test.

"Every manufacturer is going to tell you they have the best product, whatever it is, so we provide the independent verification with a lot of science to tell you what product is best," Duma said.

This work isn't cheap though. The team needs dozens of each kind of headband, which start at $50 a piece.

So the helmet lab is crowdfunding to raise $10,000 by noon on Thursday.

Duma explained, "Crowdfunding is a new way to look at social media to involve consumers and to involve people that are going to be using this product and create excitement about it."

A link to the crowdfunding site is available under the Related Links section of this article.

He added if the team gets the funding, they could have results by the start of the Fall.

The boxes won't be marked with the rating system yet, but the team will publish their results just in time for when parents are buying new gear.

A link to the Lab's website with all their findings as also available in the Related Links section.