Tag Archives: heading

Ban on Heading for Youth Soccer Stirs Controversy

(Editor’s note: The following story was written by Amanda Atwell for Reporting Texas (http://reportingtexas.com), news and features from the University of Texas’ School of Journalism, and is reprinted here with permission.)

Lindsey Meyer has played soccer since she was 4 years old.  The midfielder for the University of Texas at Austin women’s team has never suffered a concussion from heading the ball.

The United States Soccer Federation last November adopted new rules that ban heading in games played by children. Meyer says she couldn’t disagree more: the new rule, she fears, could hurt the development of talented players, and could cause players to be more afraid of heading than they already are.

Meyer and other critics of the ban say it will delay the instruction of proper heading technique. She said it might dissuade young players from wanting to use heading when they get older, because they think it’s unsafe. Some critics say the ban could factor into youth-game strategies that could undermine the integrity of the game.

Heading, in which players redirect an oncoming ball with their heads, is a key element of soccer. But it means that players’ heads come into contact with balls at high speeds, potentially causing concussions. Opinions on the ban are divided in the soccer world. Supporters such as Brandi Chastain, a former U.S. Women’s National Team member believe heading doesn’t need to be taught under the age of 14, and that younger children should be learning basic foot skills and the foundations of soccer.

The change follows a 2014 class action lawsuit filed against U.S. Soccer and FIFA in California by parents demanding a change in how the sport handles concussions. The lawsuit was dropped after U.S. Soccer adopted the new rules, which prohibit players under age 10 from heading the ball and limits heading to practice for players 11 to 13. In a statement last November, U.S. Soccer said changes to the youth game to limit concussions were in the works long before the lawsuit.

“In constructing the concussion component, U.S. Soccer sought input from its medical science committee which includes experts in the field of concussion diagnosis and management, as well as from its technical advisors, and worked with its youth members to develop a true consensus-based program,” U.S. Soccer CEO General Dan Flynn said.

Meyer,  a 22-year-old senior who grew up in Coppell, sides with critics who say banning heading at a young age could cause players to fear heading later on in their soccer careers, when the practice becomes an essential part of the game.  Meyer said she thinks the rule could limit the development of players’ ability to head the ball – a skill that many struggle with even after years of practice.

“I have collegiate friends that hate heading the ball,” Meyer said. “And if they had this rule when they were young, they probably for sure would not head the ball now.”

Paul Gallagher, a North Texas youth soccer coach and the founder of the Odyssey Soccer Club, said he doesn’t believe the regulation will have a significant effect on player’s skill development. Gallagher focuses on developing young players’ footwork at his twice-a-week practices.

“Our time as a coach is a lot more useful spent working on their feet and not on their head at 10 years of age,” Gallagher said. “You build a foundation of foot skills and tactics, and everything else can be built on top of that.”

But Gallagher said he thinks some coaches might exploit the new rule to help their teams, depending on how it’s enforced. If a game is stopped because a player headed the ball and the other team got possession, teams could try to force opponents to head the ball to gain an advantage.

“If the rule is that a player can’t head the ball, coaches could tell their players to throw the ball towards [opponents’] heads,” Gallagher said. He said some coaches might think, “We throw the ball right at them; if the player heads the ball, we get a PK (penalty kick). If they duck, well, then we’re in behind them anyway.”

Sarah Fields, an associate professor at the University of Colorado at Denver, specializes in sports-related injuries. She conducted a study on how heading the ball affects high-school soccer players, and the results don’t support the new rule.

“While a large portion of concussions occur during the act of heading, the mechanism or cause, far more frequently than the ball, was another player,” such as elbows to the face or colliding with another player’s head, Fields said.

Players more often get concussions from elbows to the face or colliding with another player’s head. The increasingly aggressive nature was to blame for concussions – not the contact with the ball itself.

Discouraging heading could lead to players not being trained to execute them properly. That, combined with increasingly aggressive play, could result in injuries. Fields doesn’t completely disagree with the rule, but said tighter refereeing — such as calling more fouls — could have a bigger impact on reducing injuries.

“I think not knowing what you’re doing puts you at a greater risk, and it puts your opponent at a greater risk,” Fields said. “You go up with your eyes shut, then you’re panicked and you flail. You’re going to hit somebody, and nothing good is going to come of that.”

Meyer, the Texas midfielder, said heading is a crucial component of the game and training should start early.

“Heading is something you need to learn at a young age, because it’s so important to the game of soccer,” she said.

 

Posted in College, General, High School, Other Sports | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

U.S. Soccer CMO Says Heading Doesn’t Cause Concussions

U.S. Soccer Chief Medical Officer Dr. George Chiampas said in a media conference call that “heading, in and of itself doesn’t cause concussions.”

Chiampas further clarifed his statement that “purposeful heading has not shown to this date scientifically to lead directly to concussions.”

He further noted that the earlier “changes” that U.S. Soccer has made “are based on expert opinion at this point, realizing that science is still evolving.

‘We know that the vast majority of concussions occur when there is contact between players trying to head the ball,” said Chiampas. “Whether that is head-to-head contact, elbow-to-head or their head hitting the ground while challenging for the ball in the air; by reducing the number of those aerial challenges to head the ball, we believe we will decrease the incident of concussions.”

Posted in College, General, High School, Other Sports | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Study Connects ‘Frequent’ Heading in Soccer with Mild TBI

Research was presented this week that suggests that soccer players who frequently head the ball have brain abnormalities resembling those found in patients with mild traumatic brain injury. file8241271533860 (1)

The study, conducted by researchers at New York City’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, relied upon advanced imaging techniques and cognitive tests.

On average, soccer players head the ball six to 12 times during games, where balls can travel at speeds of more than 50 miles per hour, according to Michael L. Lipton, M.D., Ph.D., associate director of Einstein’s Gruss Magnetic Resonance Research Center and medical director of MRI services at Montefiore, the University Hospital and academic medical center for Einstein. During practice drills, players commonly head the ball 30 or more times. The impact from a single heading is unlikely to cause traumatic brain damage such as laceration of nerve fibers. But scientists have worried that cumulative damage from heading’s repeated subconcussive impacts might be clinically significant. “Repetitive heading could set off a cascade of responses that leads to degeneration of brain cells over time,” noted Dr. Lipton.

To study possible brain injury from heading, the researchers used diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), an advanced MRI-based imaging technique, on 37 amateur adult soccer players (median age 31 years) who had all played the sport since childhood. Participants reported playing soccer for an average of 22 years and had played an average of 10 months over the previous year. Researchers ranked the players based on heading frequency and then compared the DTI brain images of the most frequent headers with those of the remaining players. All participants also underwent cognitive testing.

DTI “sees” the movement of water molecules within and along axons, the nerve fibers that constitute the brain’s white matter. This imaging technique allows researchers to measure the uniformity of water movement (called fractional anisotropy, or FA) throughout the brain. Abnormally low FA within white matter indicates axon damage and has previously been associated with cognitive impairment in patients with traumatic brain injury.

“The DTI findings pertaining to the most frequent headers in our study showed white-matter abnormalities similar to what we’ve seen in patients with concussion,” said Dr. Lipton. “Soccer players who headed the ball above a threshold between 885 to 1,550 times a year had significantly lower FA in three areas of the temporal-occipital white matter.” Dr. Lipton noted that players with more than 1,800 headings per year were also more likely to demonstrate poorer memory scores compared to participants with fewer yearly headings.

“Our study provides compelling preliminary evidence that brain changes resembling mild traumatic brain injury are associated with frequently heading a soccer ball over many years,” said Dr. Lipton. “While further research is clearly needed, our findings suggest that controlling the amount of heading that people do may help prevent brain injury that frequent heading appears to cause.”

Posted in General, Other Sports | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment