We are in the middle of an exciting time for soccer players—the World Cup! Teams from all over the world come together to crown the soccer champion. My oldest daughter is an avid soccer player and is loving watching the fierce competition. In her age group, heading isn’t part of the game just yet, but it has brought up a lot of questions as we watch.
From her: “Wow, when can I start doing that?”
And for me: “Is it safe to hit the ball with your head all the time?”
Are There Lasting Effects of Soccer Headers?
Heading is a controversial topic among soccer enthusiasts and people who care for soccer players. Studies have been mixed about the long-term effects of heading. A few have shown issues with memory, attention, and reaction speed in soccer players who do “a lot” of headers. Other studies show these issues happen in those who’ve had true head injuries, like concussions. Given all the different opinions it’s hard to know if it’s safe for our kids!
Since it is so controversial what can we do to keep our soccer players safe? The most important thing is for these young athletes to learn how to head correctly. US soccer does not allow heading in U11 programs and then limits heading in U12/U13. Anyone younger than this should not be heading or be practicing heading the ball! When heading does start, it is important for coaches to teach the proper technique.
- Keep your eyes on the ball until it hits your head—There is a temptation when something is coming at you to close your eyes. Doing this will make it more likely for the player to hit the ball in the wrong place, miss, or hit another player. Eye contact with the ball should be made until the header is complete.
- Hit it on the center of the forehead—This part of the player’s head has the most surface area and is less likely to cause injury. It also gives the player more accuracy when they strike it.
- Talk to teammates—Players should let their teammates know that they are going for the ball. An injury is more likely as two teammates go up in the air for a ball at the same time. They will strike heads and then a concussion may occur.
In addition to the proper coaching of the technique, coaches need to know the signs of a concussion. If a player is experiencing any headache, dizziness, or other unusual symptoms after heading or heading practice they should come out of the game/practice and be evaluated.