The Debate on Heading in Youth Soccer

I’ve been playing soccer since I was five years old. Throughout my soccer career, one issue seems to follow me wherever I play. The debate on whether heading the ball in soccer should be allowed. While heading seems to be controversial, everyone can agree that it can be very effective way to have an advantage in a game. This could be by clearing the ball out of your defensive position or even scoring the game winning goal.

Though, the main problem people see with heading is the fact that they increase the chances of getting a concussion, especially in youth soccer.

As I said before, I have been playing soccer for a while. Currently I play holding mid. This position is right in front of the defensive line and in the middle of the field. This position is very demanding in the fact that I must challenge every ball in the air. This would include anything from driven balls from the other team to punts from the other teams goalie. Heading is hard as it is, but this position is in the center of the field, so I’m bound to run into another player.

My least favorite part is heading punts. It is as if the ball just drops on my head. These really do hurt sometimes, but heading is a part of the game and in my opinion, should not be changed. Playing soccer is a choice. If a person chooses to play soccer at a high level, they should expect to head the ball.

Heading has been a part of the game of soccer since it began, but since studies have began to show the effects of heading, a new rule has taken place to ban heading in youth soccer. According to the U.S. Soccer Concussion Initiative 2016, a few rules have began to take place.

Rules put in place to combat concussions.

What is a concussion?

First, we need to understand what a concussion is. According to the Mayo Clinic, a concussion is a “traumatic brain injury that affects your brain function.”

“Generally, these studies find that soccer should be concerned about concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease found in those who have suffered repeated blows to the head.”

These usually occur when a persons head takes on sudden impact. The brain is then shaken, which is never good. Concussions can last anywhere from a few days to even a few months. As the Mayo Clinic described before, concussions affect your brain function. Some of these effects are headaches, confusion, dizziness, nausea, and trouble concentrating. The more violent the blow to the head is, the worse effects a concussion can be. These effects can even last a life time.

As heading seems to become a more popular debate, scientists have began studying the after effects of concussions. As reported by The Ringer, “Generally, these studies find that soccer should be concerned about concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease found in those who have suffered repeated blows to the head.”

The studies have brought a lot of attention the CTE. The main take away from this disease is that it becomes more of a problem after repeatedly taking blows to the head and that it can affect your cognitive functions. Since studies have begun to take place, soccer critics have also began to look for the benefits of the new “no heading” rule for the youths.

The Benefits of No Heading

An obvious benefit to the banning of heading in youth soccer is the prevention of ball-to-head concussions on a still developing brain. While some may think the absence of heading in youth soccer will make our future teams at a disadvantage, a sports critic, Stefan Fatsis, argues on the NY Times that not being able to head the ball will help soccer players develop better in different areas of the game.

Not heading the ball at all detracts nothing from, and in fact improves, the game; kids get better at soccer by learning to control the ball out of the air with their feet, thighs, chest and other body parts. -Stefan Fatsis

How Heading Helps the Game

While a lot of studies support the reasonings behind the banning of heading, some studies say that when a player is ready to head the ball, concussions do not tend to happen as much. Researcher Dr. Kirkendall did an experiment on

A common demand of soccer is to challenge the ball in the air. Many of these instances can’t be prevented. Picture from The Telegraph.

the force of impact on heads. He concluded the following:

“The impact of a soccer ball on the head of youths of various sizes, based on the likely speed of the ball, and concluded that the force of impact is well below the force that is thought to be necessary to cause a concussion in heading a soccer ball.”

His study also suggests that children can not even kick a ball hard enough to actually cause a concussion. The article from NAP also makes a point that most concussions are not even from the ball. Since soccer is a contact sport, many concussions are the result of head-to-head challenges. While the new rules are making a difference, many concussions won’t be prevented due to the demands of the game.

Solutions

In my eyes, there are two solutions; the solution that has already taken place in youth soccer or taking the time to teach the youth how to head a ball correctly.

The current guidelines for concussions include not heading the ball until the age of 14. This does prevent concussions immensely because there is absolutely no heading.

But what does a player do in a game like situation if they do not have much experience heading the ball when they are finally allowed to.

I support the idea of always allowing heading in soccer. Learning the correct technique will decrease concussions. Tossing the ball to a player to head is good practice for technique, which is allowed in practice for children ages 11 through 13. This is nothing like a game situation. Kirkendall even concluded that “youths rarely have enough force to kick a ball to speeds higher than 40 miles per hour.” This is not fast enough to give someone a concussion if they use the right technique.

Overall, I understand taking heading out of the game of soccer for health purposes, but heading does set a player and a team ahead of others despite the possible concussions.