Heading the Soccer Ball
Soccer is a popular sport for children and adolescents. A unique feature of soccer is that participants can use their heads to direct the ball. This technique is referred to as "heading." Using improper form and/or technique could result in a concussion, which is any change in the way the brain functions as a result of trauma.
Several research studies have looked at whether heading can cause problems with brain function, and the results have been conflicting. Currently there are no studies showing that repeated heading of a soccer ball causes long-term problems with thinking or memory.
Soccer is a contact sport that carries a risk of head injury and collision. Most soccer head occur when a player hits their head against the ground or collides with another player. Heading the ball does not seem be a significant cause of acute injury. However, most research studies examining the safety of heading have involved collegiate and professional soccer players.
There aren’t any long-term research studies that show that heading is safe for children. Based on the data that is available, physicians recommend that children who play soccer be taught good heading technique and use a ball that is age-appropriate. Young children may not be have the developmental skills necessary for proper heading which could lead to an increased risk of injuries to the skull, neck and spine. However, improper heading at any age may expose a player to risk.
Opinions in the medical and coaching community about when children should be allowed to begin heading vary. The American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) does not recommend heading below the age of 10.
Proper Heading Technique
The following include the fundamentals of correct heading technique:
- Proper head contact: The goal is to contact the ball on the forehead at or near the hairline (the area where you would place your hand to detect a fever)
- The player should be active: The popular coaching adage is “Hit the ball; don’t let the ball hit you”
- The player should have their chin tucked toward their chest
- The arms are usually placed forward to balance and protect the player
No studies have proven that headgear reduces concussion rates in soccer players. Laboratory studies using dummies and sensors to monitor force have suggested that headgear may help decrease the risk of head injury as a result of players colliding.
After a Head Injury
Every head injury is unique, but children and teens are especially vulnerable to having long-term problems if they return to contact sports too quickly following a head injury. If your child is involved in a collision during soccer and has symptoms of concussion such as headache, memory or concentration difficulty, mood changes or dizziness, they should be evaluated by a physician with experience in treating concussions prior to being allowed to return to play.