Concern over Concussions Limits Head Maneuver in Youth Soccer

Children under the age of 10 are recommended to not use their head in the world’s most popular sport.

By Rhonda FanningDecember 17, 2015 11:11 am| ,

Soccer star Abby Wambach suited up for the last time as a member of the US women’s national team last night. Wambach ends her career with 184 goals scored in international play. That’s the most by any player, man or woman: Two Olympic gold medals and a World Cup. Her accomplishments led some, including the President, to call her the GOAT – the Greatest Of All Time.

Her goal in the final seconds of extra time during the 2011 World Cup quarter-final against Brazil was voted by FIFA as the greatest Women’s Cup goal of all time. That goal heard round the world came off her head.

While the maneuver – often called a “header” – takes much skill, concerns over concussions in youth soccer started after negligence lawsuits were filed against major soccer organizations. In response, the U.S. Soccer Federation issued first-of-a-kind concussion guidelines earlier this month.

David Messersmith, executive director of North Texas Soccer, says the recommendation is primarily an education project for everyone involved in the game, from coaches and parents to players and referees.

“A lot of it has to do with coaches teaching the correct method to head a ball,” Messersmith says. “Young kids seldom ever hit a ball anyway – their natural reaction, if a ball is coming to their head, is to move away.”

The U.S. soccer federation proposes that players under the age of 11 should not engage in heading, both in games and practices.

“In under 12 and under 13, they want to limit heading to no more than 15 or 20 headers per player, per week at practices,” Messersmith says. “And then for 14 and older, there’s no changes.”

According to Messersmith, the motor skills enabling players to hit the ball with their head don’t kick in until ages 10 to 12, so the concern about concussions tends to lie with teenagers and adult leagues.

“Quite honestly, most of [the concussions] we find are not from heading a ball,” he says, noting that most incidents are a result of the head hitting another person’s body part. “It may be two players both attempting to hit a ball at the same time and instead of hitting the ball, they hit each other. Those are where the concussion-type injuries typically come from in soccer.”

So are these limitations likely to affect the game soccer in a significant way? Messersmith says concussions have always been a concern.

“Probably why it’s taken as long as it has for some of this to evolve is because it does change the nature of the game,” he says.

Click through to watch the FIFA clip on YouTube.