At the beginning of the month, 8-year-old Gabriel Mendoza was hanging on the crossbar of a soccer goal post during a soccer game in South Mountain, Arizona, when it fell on him. He was the ninth boy in the past three years to die from a falling goal post. News reports of his death did not say whether the goal post was anchored or, if it was anchored, whether it was anchored incorrectly.
The accident is eerily similar to the death of Zachary Tran, a 6-year old 1st grader from Vernon Hills, Illinois, who died when an unanchored soccer goal post fell on him in the fall of 2003. Zachary was at soccer practice when his mother last saw him practicing around the goal. She asked Zach to stop hanging from the goal post and pay attention to the coach because she needed to take one of the children in her carpool to the restroom.
Several minutes later, while no one was looking, the goal somehow fell on Zach, causing massive head trauma. Paramedics were unable to revive him, and Zachary was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital less than an hour later. The official cause of death was cardiac arrest due to massive head injuries.
While I have never witnessed a soccer goal fall on a child, I will never forget the raw and blustery late autumn afternoon a few years back when I was running a soccer practice for a group of nine- and ten year-olds. A game was being played on an adjacent field. Suddenly, a snow squall struck. A gust of wind sent one of the goals crashing to the ground. We all looked to see what caused the loud noise and were shocked when we saw what had happened. Fortunately, no one was injured. But, to this day, I still remember the sound of that goal toppling over and I shudder each time I think what might have happened had it fallen over on a child.
A chilling reminder
There are between 395,000 and 600,000 soccer goals in the United States. Many are unsafe because they are unstable and either unanchored or not correctly anchored or counterbalanced. In addition, even properly secured goalposts pose an unnecessary danger to players, primarily goalies, because the vast majority are unpadded. Even though goalies comprise only six percent of soccer players, they suffer nineteen percent of all soccer injuries. When a player collides with the post of a heavy, stationary goal post, the player absorbs all of the impact of the collision.
Soccer goals can weigh up to 400 pounds and are top-heavy because the bars are made of metal. While anchoring unsafe goals goes a long way to prevent incidents, the ultimate answer is to revamp soccer goals, using lighter materials and tip-resistant design. A new ASTM standard for tip-resistant soccer goal (F2673-08) has recently been released.
Something to smile about
Many leagues have invested in the proper anchor systems and there are countless sports groups who implement precautions to prevent catastrophic injury from soccer goals. There are also non-profit organizations working tirelessly to educate coaches and parents on ways to prevent death or injury. One such organization is Anchored for Safety, which was established by Zachary Tran's family to provide tools to empower individuals and groups to make soccer goals safe in their area. The site includes recommendations for safe handling, repositioning and storage of soccer goals.
We need to work harder so that no more children like Gabriel Mendoza and Zachary Tran die from falling soccer goalposts. All of these deaths are preventable!