Head injury woes spark calls for change

Richmond forward Ben Griffiths, though wearing a helmet, suffered a second concussion playing in the VFL early last season. He has now quit the AFL and is in the US on a sports scholarship. Picture: richmondfc.com.au


Junior football clubs are being urged to review their head injury policy with several high profile concussions occurring in the AFL this season. 

For ex-women’s footballer Briana Peterson these reviews could not come quickly enough.

Ms Peterson suffered a permanent head injury while playing junior football in 2016. 

“I can’t really 100 per cent remember what happened,” she said.

Doctors told her she incurred a minor concussion when her head made contact with the ground after tackling an opposition player.

“Since then I’ve had quiet bad nausea and vertigo,” Ms Peterson said. Chronic headaches also plague her.

In recent years female-only junior football leagues have seen a 76 per cent increase in membership, with the AFL instituting its professional women’s counterpart (the AFLW) in 2016.

Trainers attend a player who has sustained a possible head injury playing for the LJFC. Picture: Thomas Randall

“I think especially in girls football we need to be taught when training how to protect ourselves. We were never taught to go side on to the contact, I always ran in head first,” Ms Peterson said.

One of the problems was the lack of experience most female footballers had, she said. Many of the women currently playing football did not learn the fundamentals of the sport because of their late starting age.

“We only had one girl on the team who had played juniors with the boys,” Ms Peterson said. “None of us had ever played contact sports before.”

A mandatory requirement for all players to wear helmets is an option often suggested as a solution to the injuries, however not everyone agrees.

A 2009 study by the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that the use of helmets in contact sports had little to no effect in reducing head-related trauma. Some claim it could do the opposite, with the perceived added protection causing players to undertake riskier behaviour.  

Reports like these have lead the Langwarrin Junior Football Club to change their helmet policy.

For more than a decade the club had made it compulsory for all under 9s and 10s players to wear helmets. This is now up to the players’ parents.

Langwarrin Club registrar Alison Dean said they were now focusing on education as a way of managing head trauma.

The club has also implemented a set of strict rules that restrict players with head injuries from returning before they have fully healed. 

“If they’re concussed, they have to have a doctor’s clearance to return to play the next week,” Ms Dean said.

Ms Peterson agreed that clubs need to place an emphasis on education to mitigate the effects of brain injury.

“If you’ve got a concussion it should be the same as in the AFL, you have to have at least one week off,” said Ms Peterson.