In December of 2015, US Soccer implemented new heading guidelines as a measure to help reduce the risk of concussions. Kids ages 10 and under are no longer allowed to head the ball while kids ages 11-13 are limited in the amount of heading they can do in training. This was a response to the growing concern about concussions and the short and long term effects that may follow. With this in mind what should your child be doing to help reduce risk? Follow the 3 T’s: Technique, Training and Technology.
Learning proper heading technique is important in reducing the number of head injuries your child may sustain. These would include heading the ball at the center of your forehead just below the hairline; keeping your eyes open and mouth closed; having a good athletic stance with your feet shoulder width apart; and having your arms out to your sides for protection and balance. Practicing under adult supervision initially is recommended to be able to incorporate these elements into a clean motion that minimizes the chance for injury. Starting with very “soft,” low-velocity balls is key and over time you can increase the pace of the ball. Having intent to place or send the ball in a certain direction is part of this, as accuracy and speed both play a role in heading success.
Studies have shown that improving your neck and core strength can help reduce the risk of concussions. Once your child reaches the age where he/she can head the ball, and even leading up to it, strength training should become a part of their regimen. There are a variety of neck strengthening exercises you can do along with abdominal and core work. The NSCAA has created an online Diploma Course called “Get aHEAD Safely in Soccer” which has great exercises for strengthening the neck and core. You can access the course at: https://www.nscaa.com/heading
While good heading technique and training will help you reduce the risk of injury during practice and games, these two “T’s” don’t play as much of a factor when considering possible injuries from impacts from collisions or falls (head-to-post, head-to-ground, or ball-to-head). They also don’t account for the kids 10 and under who aren’t allowed to head the ball at all. Protective headgear plays a role in reducing risk and is the 3rd“T.” Be selective when assessing which is the right headgear for you or your child. Kids need to like how it looks (so they will actually wear it) and it needs be more than just a layer of couch foam. I like the Unequal Halo which has tested to ASTM standards; it features military grade technology like coated aramid fabric (the stuff you can find in bullet-resistant vests) and offers serious protection. Nothing eliminates or prevents concussions, but headgear proven to reduce acceleration, as Unequal’s Halo does, by definition, reduces concussion risk.
To sum up, learning proper heading technique, properly strengthening neck muscles and wearing protective headgear together will help to reduce the risk of concussions and head injuries in soccer.
Now go play. Safer. Stronger. Smarter.
NCAA D1 Head Coach, 22 years
Auburn • Ole Miss • Georgia • Lamar