Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Youth Soccer: Is Heading A Soccer Ball Safe?

A new study suggests that heading a soccer ball might not be safe after all.

A friend of my was playing goalie in a friendly pick up game. The field was filled with both US and foreign born ex-college players ages 25 to 45. During a game one Sunday, a powerful midfielder ripped a shot. My friend went to save the ball and the bone in his arm snapped through his skin proving that a soccer ball can cause damage.

So why doesn't a headed soccer ball cause brain injuries?

I know that ball contracts on impact to mitigate the force, but still, a professional soccer player can kick a soccer ball up to 80 mph.

How can that not cause brian damage?

This is a question that I have thought about often, but not enough to look for an answer because I considered that soccer has been played for years and years all over the world and brain injuries from a headed ball have never been a major concern. I would consider the world-wide history of soccer a big long conclusive test. If there were a problem with heading, then FIFA, SAY and any other organizing soccer body would have outlawed heading. So I just blindly assumed that heading a soccer ball was safe even if it did not make intuitive sense. Of course, the game is not without head injures, but soccer head injuries seemed to be confined to heads hitting heads, heads hitting goal posts and heads hitting the grounds.

Well, a new study suggests that heading a soccer ball may cause brain function issues. The study was presented at the Radiological Society of North America today. The study suggests that repeated heading is the issue, not the force of a single impact. Again, it makes intuitive sense to me, but then again, I look back on the long history of soccer wonder why issues have not surfaced prior to this study. I guess a lot of research needs to be done before there will be conclusive report.

The Main Point

So I conclude that if you put modern medical equipment to the test you can detect changes in the brain from repeated heading. If you put history to the test you can conclude that the changes detected from the modern equipment must not be consequential.

Heading is a vitally important part of the game on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. The best advice I can give a soccer mom or dad is to make sure that your kid's coach is teaching the proper technique at age 10 and up.

I do not think that players under 10 years old need to be heading a soccer ball. I say this not because it is conclusively proven to be dangerous to developing brains, but because players of this age do not know the proper technique. This can cause injuries. Kids this age often close their eyes and let the ball hit them on the top of the head (not the forehead where the most protective bones are). This does not feel very good and fear develops. This fear from poor initial technique will undermine the confidence needed to properly execute a header when they get older. Besides, young players 10 and under have so many things to master first.

Click here for the proper technique for heading a soccer ball

My son was a terrific player in the air. In soccer terms that means he was a very good at heading a ball. He attacked the ball.


  1. Interesting. My daughter is a soccer player as well and I've often thought that heading the ball looked dangerous. I have also thought that given he long history of the game, it would have been banned if there was a problem. It will be interseting to see if further study confirms this finding.

    But, are you sure 'issues have not surfaced prior to this study'. It would go a long way to explaining some of the behaviour of some of the Premier League Soccer players in the UK :)

  2. Funny - I am not an expert on this subject for sure and anything involving brain injuries should not be ignored. I found this link from a Children's hospital that says no conclusive evidence has surfaced yet.

  3. No it isn't safe, not at all. I mean medical studies have proved that.

  4. You're wrong about concussions because of heading the ball hasn't been a major concern in the past. Read an article a few years back that mentioned the problems older soccer players are having because of heading the ball. Remember them talking about how the old balls (made of leather) would hold water & that made the ball even heavier. Here's an article from 2001:

    1998 article -

    I'm sure I can find more - Check out the writeup on the 1929 ball:

    Final article -

  5. Clarence - thanks so much for providing more context. I am going to write a follow up post so that my readers have direct access to the links your provided. Still the findings are somewhat inconclusive.

  6. You talked about few valid points. Some studies show that pre-teens who head the ball while playing soccer could suffer memory loss. Everyone should be careful before heading soccer ball.

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