One of the more common misconceptions about youth soccer among ‘new’ soccer parents is they view soccer as a ‘non-contact’ sport. The first time their child gets shoved or knocked down jostling for the ball, some will be screaming at the referee as if a foul had been committed. Our league has found it very useful to explain to parents that contact is a common occurrence in soccer and the difference between incidental contact and illegal contact. Common sense tells you where there is contact – there is a risk of injury.

A recent study showed that youth soccer has the highest rate of injury (2.1 per 100 events) compared to other sports including baseball (1.7), softball (1.0), and yes, even football (1.5). The study defines an injury as "one requiring on-field evaluation by coaching staff, or causing a player to stop participation for any period of time, or requiring first aid during an event." Of course when you look at serious injury rates (fractures, concussions, and dislocations), 14% of football injuries were serious compared to 1% for soccer.

When most people think about soccer injuries, they think of leg injuries (knee’s, ankles, etc.). Research shows that about 48% of injuries are to the legs. However, an eye catching statistic is that while goal keepers make up about 6% of the soccer population, they account for 18% of the injuries. In a 13 year period, 18 people have died due to impacts with a goal post. So researchers set out to see if they could reduce the amount of injuries related to the goals themselves.

In 2001, a study was released by David H. Janda, MD, Cynthia Bir, MS, RN, Bart Wild, Steve Olson, and Robert N. Hensinger, MD where they studied the effect of various types of goal post padding, both on players who hit them and also how it impacted the game.

They developed a rather scary looking device that took a head shaped battering ram that would travel down a trolley and hit various goal post types. Impact pressures were measured to judge the effectiveness of various types of padding. They also did vertical tests where a head shaped device fell onto a post.

Goal PadsContrary to what you might imagine, the pads were not the thick foam type pads you often see on football goalposts. Instead they were thin wraps made up of different types of compact foam and ABS resulting in pads that were between 1.25cm and 2.2cm thick. The picture in the study is not the best but gives you an idea of how the pads were shaped.

They tested both round and square goal posts and found that the pressures generated with square goal posts were higher than round posts. I’ve never understood why you would make a goal post square. From an injury standpoint, if you hit the corner, the pressures will be concentrated and likely cause a more severe injury. If you hit the flat surface, you have NO chance of deflection compared to a round post where you have a much higher chance of a deflection, reducing the forces. Perhaps it took time for the manufacturers to develop strong enough round posts able to stay straight across 24 feet. But I can’t see why anyone would purchase square posted goals in this day and age.

The test results showed that certain pads could reduce vertical forces by more than 50% and horizontal forces by just over 40%. Exposure to the elements for 2 years did not seem to affect the results by a significant amount.

So the pads clearly could help reduce injury, but how would pads on a goal post affect the game? The researchers had observers at 471 matches that used the padded goals (the VN+S type which was found to be the most effective) 7 collisions were observed with none resulting in an injury. Interviews with coaches, players, and spectators found that most people did not even realize the goal posts had pads on them. The observers also reported that they did not see a noticeable impact on how the ball rebounded off the posts. That makes sense considering how thin the padding. The compression of the padding would be magnitudes less than the compression on the ball, resulting in similar rebound characteristics.

Overall this study made a very strong case that a) goal post pads were effective in reducing collision forces and b) they did not noticeably change the game itself. But are they necessary? The one thing about this study that clouds the answer is the case studies they used to show why pads should be used. In both cases, the injuries resulted in goals falling onto a player. Aluminum or not, those goals are HEAVY and can easily kill someone if they hit their head. You might think they couldn’t tip over from some wind, but you would be wrong. We had one of our 18ft x 6.5ft goals blown down a hill during a storm. It had recently been unanchored and moved to allow the field to be mowed. The storm hit that evening and the next morning, the goal was at least 20ft from where it had been.

The trick is, most soccer associations now require goal anchors. Properly anchored, the case study injuries would never have happened. The problem is the injury statistics don’t differentiate between players impacting the goal posts (during play, etc) and goal posts impacting players (collisions). They also don’t differentiate between injury rates for square post goals compared to round post goals.

I’ll admit that keeping goals anchored is a problem. Every time our fields get mowed, anchors get lost and later get chewed up in the mowers (causing much consternation among our rec department). Any association or recreation department that is not anchoring goals 24×7 is just asking for injuries to occur. Kids jump on goals all the time. I’ve already seen with my own eyes, kids tipping over 6′ x 4′ U6 goals that didn’t get re-anchored. What I don’t understand is why soccer goal manufacturers aren’t including anchors permanently attached to the rear bars. If anchors were on the bars, I think the people mowing the fields would be more apt to re-anchor the goals. I know we’re considering getting a welder to weld the anchors to a short chain welded to the rear bar of the goals so they won’t be left on the field, waiting to get jammed in the mowers. Wedging a 1/4" diameter piece of steel into the blades of a reel mower isn’t a good thing.

But I digress. The big question is, should leagues be padding goal posts or not?

The folks at MomsTeam think so, using the same study I’ve talked about here as the basis for their support. An interesting report on soccer goal safety was released by Bollinger, a leading insurer of soccer players (over 2 million). They stressed how important it is to anchor goals and also highlighted that many accidents seem to happen outside of formal soccer events – unsupervised kids climbing on the goals left on the field during the off-season, etc. The report included some interesting statistics.

  • Over a ten year period, Bollinger received 32 claims related to soccer goals.
  • One was a fatality when a child ran into a goal post a died due to trauma from the injury.
  • Most of the claims were due to un-anchored goals or accidents when goals were being moved.
  • Four claims (in addition to the one tragic accident mentioned above) resulted during gameplay. Two of the four claims were due to the goal falling apart and pieces hitting the players. The other two were collisions with the posts.
  • The rest of the claims had to do with poorly maintained goals, sharp edges, etc. Take note – one of the claims was a serious cut from the zip ties commonly used to secure nets.

The zip tie part caught my attention – we use them as well. The existing net anchors are SO flimsy and the nets come off the posts all the time. Does anyone make a zip-tie like device with a ROUNDED end? If you cut the extended piece flush, this would be SO much safer. If you use zip-ties, at the very least you should ensure the tie is cut flush with the zip part to avoid sharp edges.

So out of 32 claims, three were the result of an actual player collision with a goal – approximately 10%. This is a VERY small sample so it is impossible to draw much from it. Which leads me to my VERY anti-climactic conclusion.

There’s not enough available information (that I could find) to make an informed decision. There are many people who will say ‘if we can avoid just ONE serious injury we should do it’, but you need to take a higher level view. You are talking about hundreds of thousands of goals across the country. Most goal pads I could find (and they aren’t easy to find) cost about $100-$200 per goal. That seems like a small amount to prevent even one child dying due to a goal collision, but nationwide you are talking about close to 20-40 million dollars if estimates of 200,000 soccer goals nationwide are accurate. Given the cost of new goals, you are likely talking about an increase of 5-10% to include pads with new goals.

Many leagues will resist the concept of padding because of the impact they feel it will have on the game. The suggestion that perhaps only goals in younger divisions be padded is reasonable, but it’s the older kids running much faster, diving to head in a goal, etc. who are at greatest risk.

Goal injuries are a serious issue. I know from personal experience how hard it is to keep goals anchored and safe. Right now it seems better to focus on ensuring goals stay anchored and properly maintained. Falling goals are clearly one of the leading causes of goal injuries, if not the leading cause. You can try to eliminate ALL risk, but at some point you do have to say the ends don’t justify the means. That may seem harsh when a handful of players are seriously hurt by post collisions, but reality dictates you have limited resources. I’d rather see a league spend money to buy a new goal to replace an older one that might fall apart than buy pads for all their goals. In terms of human resources, it is clear not enough leagues are anchoring their goals. That needs to be addressed above all else.

So further analysis is clearly needed. There is no question the pads work. The impact on the game appears to be minimal. But there is not enough data to give a strong indication on how many injuries can be avoided by padding goals due to the grouping of both collision injuries and falling goal injuries as well as no differentiation between goals with square posts and round.

So what should be done? I think the goal manufacturers need to step up and acknowledge that goal injuries are an issue. They should make small changes in their goals to help leagues keep them safe, including:

  • Include an anchor kit with each goal, including a means to permanently attach anchors to the rear bars so they don’t get lost.
  • Utilize fasteners that are less likely to loosen over time, perhaps nylon locking rings inside threaded holes, etc.
  • Develop strong means to anchor nets to posts so leagues don’t need to use zip-ties to attach nets to  the posts.
  • Develop a ‘safe’ zip-tie (if they don’t already exist) making laceration injuries less likely on goals with nets anchored by them.
  • Invest some money into R&D for coatings that may reduce collision forces. Integrated padding on goal posts are much more likely to survive the lifetime of a goal. Perhaps some type of thick gel with a vinyl outer skin or improved minicell polyethylene that is permanently attached to the post.
  • Phase out square post goals. They may be cheaper to make, but they present a greater danger because of the reduced chance of a deflection.

Soccer goal safety is a serious issue. Anyone involved in youth soccer should read the Bollinger report and share it with their league. One of the most disturbing things in the report was the fact that goal claims were not decreasing. Padding is an option. However, I believe we have much more serious issues to address first. I’d also be curious to see where goal pad technology is today (the studies I’m referencing here were published over 5 years ago)

What do you think? Does your league use goal pads? If so, how is it working for you?
What kind of pads are they?