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Heading in Youth Soccer: The Debate Continues

Proposal urging middle school and U14 soccer programs to ban heading sparks renewed interest, but is science slanted?

Decision tree

Where does all of this lead parents and middle school and Under-14 youth soccer programs?

In answering the question, "Should my child head soccer balls?" (for parents, at least) Webbe proposes in his 2010 book [2] the use of the following "decision tree":

Should My Child Head Soccer Balls?

If Yes to ALL: OK with Caution
If Yes to ANY: NO
13 or older
Under 13
Proportional musculature for head size
Large head relative to body
No history of head injury Positive history of head injury
Has had technical heading instruction from a qualified coach
No technical heading instruction from a qualified coach
No history of learning or attention problems
Positive history of learning or attention problems

As Webbe notes, however, while this decision tree is useful for individual children, it "does not address the practical application of such a decision matrix. Clearly, it would be awkward at best and chaotic at worse to allow some children on a team to head and not others."

In his view, a ban on heading for all children would thus be the best practical solution.

Time will tell whether the science will prove him and SLI right.  For now, however, one thing is clear, and that is that the science is far from clear: that the evidence simply does not permit an unqualified answer to the question of whether heading a soccer ball results in more concussions and repeated subconcussive brain trauma which can have long-term neurological consequences in both adolescents and adults, much less that delaying heading until age 14 will result in fewer concussions and measurably less long-term neurological consequences for those who delay heading versus those who don't.

________

*** In the interest of transparency, and to avoid any suggestion of bias in reporting this story, it should be noted that Professor Webbe is an uncompensated member of MomsTEAM Institute's Board of Advisors, which is developing best practice youth sports health and safety checklists, including youth soccer, for the Institute's SmartTeamTM program.  It remains to be seen where the Institute will ultimately come down on the issue of the age at which heading in soccer can safely begin.


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Posted August 3, 2014

 

 

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