Water polo now linked to concussions

Coaches due to receive more training on concussion awareness
By: | August 19, 2019
Research finds that more than a third of water polo players say they’ve suffered a concussion. Goalies are most at risk, with half reporting head trauma. (gettyimages.com: motionshooter)Research finds that more than a third of water polo players say they’ve suffered a concussion. Goalies are most at risk, with half reporting head trauma. (gettyimages.com: motionshooter)

Water polo hasn’t been widely connected with concussions, but research by James Hicks, director of the University of California, Irvine’s Center for Exercise Medicine and Sports Sciences, has found that more than a third of water polo players say they’ve suffered a concussion. Goalies are most likely to get hit, with half reporting head trauma.

Hicks’ survey of nearly 2,000 college water polo players, the first epidemiological study about concussions in water polo, was published in 2016.

This year, he published an additional study in which water polo players wore sensors in their swim caps to track how often they experienced blows to the head during games and practices. The data showed that in addition to goalies, players in center positions who fight to gain control of the ball are most vulnerable to head trauma.

The research findings also have implications for youth water polo. USA Water Polo had faced criticism for lacking a protocol for concussions in youth sports but adopting guidelines for the national team. The organization now features a concussion action plan on its website telling coaches to remove young athletes with injuries from competition until they get medical clearance to return.

Xochilt Baez, a water polo coach and lifeguard at the Miguel Contreras Learning Complex, a high school in Los Angeles, says the sport includes intense physical contact.

“In water polo, you not only have to know technique, you have to use your body,” Baez says. “You have to be able to push people around in water and almost perform wrestling moves.”

Baez has been trained to ask players who’ve suffered blows to the head a series of questions to measure their awareness, such as if they know the time of day or their name. She has also been taught to look for bumps, bruises, bleeding or tenderness.

Coaches should receive more training on concussion awareness, Baez says.


Read the main story: High schools crackdown on concussions