Heading in soccer has become a controversial issue especially at the youth levels with the increased knowledge of concussions in recent years. As a player that was always regarded as tall within any team, I took to heading as an advantage over other players. Being tall and having the ability to head a soccer ball made me a more valuable player. As I play to this day I do not think much about head injuries. I have sustained multiple concussions in my time playing soccer, however only one of which came directly from heading the ball. Personally, the idea of banning headers in soccer even at the youth levels makes me cringe, but there may be some facts behind headers drastically increasing the number of head injuries.
First off, heading might seem like the main danger for concussions. However, studies have shown that there is just as much of a risk in getting a concussion from dangerous and reckless plays in soccer as there are in heading. The teaching of safer play could decrease the amount of concussions in youth soccer more than eliminating heading.
Of course heading a soccer ball can lead to concussions. There is a proper way to do headers though. Most concussions stemming from heading a soccer ball come from improper techniques of heading the ball. If heading is continued to be allowed in youth soccer, proper coaching of heading a ball should be employed. But still, are there unnecessary risks involved with heading a ball?
The biggest risk involved with heading a soccer ball comes from cumulative damage from heading the ball too often. While more commonly associated with football players, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) has had cases in soccer from constant heading. That is the main danger of heading in soccer. Constantly smashing your head against something will cause these types of problems. The risk in heading is not from a single header, but the accumulation of headers a player would do. With that being said, it should also be noted that one researcher noted a threshold of 1,100 headers in a single year, which is a pretty significant amount for even a professional player let alone a youth player. It is believed that beyond that threshold, “heading may be problematic.”
Heading in soccer, as with many plays in sports, have its risks. However, eliminating heading from the game would not eliminate the impact of head injuries on the game. To decrease the number of head injuries in soccer, safer play needs to be taught. This encompasses not only toning down excessively physical play, but also teaching better heading techniques to players.