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Youth soccer league bans heading: is this the beginning of the end for the noggin tactic?

Sep 14, 2012, 11:05 AM EDT

soccerheader Getty Images

Is the time-honored practice of striking the soccer ball with your noggin in danger of becoming extinct? ell, first came the science: several recent studies have shown that soccer is the No. 2 cause of concussions among youth athletes — and No. 1 with girls. And the main cause is all those headers.

And then came the bans. Soccer Shots Connecticut, a youth soccer teaching and development program for children ages 3 to 8, recently banned heading the ball, citing concerns about concussions.

There are an estimated 300,000 sports-related concussions annually in the U.S. in the 15-to-24-year-old age range — with the No. 2 most dangerous sport being soccer according to a study by the American Journal of Sports Medicine.

Soccer Shots Connecticut director Shannon Perry said the program recently banned heading the ball from games after learning about the dangers of the action. The maneuver is not even taught by the program, he added.

“We’re just not doing heading,” Perry said. “We think with kids younger than 10 years old, there is no reason to put them that risk.”

During game play, players will often use their head to control the soccer ball while preventing their hands from touching it. Officials are worried about the possibility of a young child getting a traumatic brain injury or suffering a concussion while performing the maneuver.

“You don’t have to be a great header to be a great soccer player,” Perry said. “There are a lot of great headers that aren’t great soccer players.”

Sports-related brain injuries have increased by 60 percent over the last 10 years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But why are girls suffering more soccer-related concussions than boys? Doctors say that it’s because girls in general have weaker necks, which thus can absorb less of the blow when the ball strikes the head.

“What’s happening in this country is an epidemic of concussions, number one, and the realization that many of these individuals are going to go on to post-concussion syndrome, which can alter their ability to function at a high level for the rest of their lives,” said Dr. Bob Cantu, who is chairman of the surgery division and the director of sports medicine at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Mass.

Dr. Cantu has made the bold proposal that heading be eliminated from youth soccer under the age of 14.

And it looks like the ball has begun rolling in that direction.

  1. khard1250 - Sep 14, 2012 at 1:58 PM

    “Soccer Shots Connecticut director Shannon Perry said the program recently banned heading the ball from games after learning about the dangers of the action. The maneuver is not even taught by the program, he added.”

    IMHO, this is a big causing factor for these injuries. If you don’t teach the technique correctly, kids are going to hit the ball with the wrong part of their head and cause injuries. We teach kids the proper way to tackle in football to reduce injuries, but ignore proper, injury reducing techniques in other sports. Don’t ban the move, educate the players.

  2. leagueathletics - Sep 17, 2012 at 11:02 AM

    Reblogged this on LeagueAthletics.com Blog.