by Bria Price, Young D.C. Reporter
The game of soccer is a beautiful art, especially when footwork skills are up to par. But some techniques that are good to score that winning goal can be damaging. Heading the ball is a special move, fascinating to watch when it’s performed correctly. Wednesday, June 25, neurological experts and soccer pros released their recommendation that kids should not practice heading until high school. They launched PASS, Parents and Pros for Safer Soccer, an organization that will encourage love of the sport, while educating about the dangers of heading.
“As a professional, and now a parent and coach, I believe that the benefits of developing heading skills as children are not worth the thousands of additional concussions that youth soccer players will suffer. As a parent, I won’t allow my children to head the ball before high school, and as a coach I would prefer my players had focused solely on foot skills as they develop their love of the game. I believe this change will create better and safer soccer,” said Brandy Chastain, a two-time FIFA Women’s World Cup champion and winner of Olympic gold (996) and silver (2000) medals. Her Olympic teammates Joy Fawcett and Cindy Parlow Cone are also working with PASS.
Many parents and some coaches aren’t aware of the effects of heading. The technique can cause brain-sloshing effects that could hinder a child later in life. When an 11- or 14-ounce ball comes in contact with the head at high speed, it creates enough force to damage nerves and give the player a minor concussion. Practice sessions might involve drills with dozens of chances to head the ball. Each time the ball makes an impact on the player’s head.
“Studies show that at least 30 percent of concussions in soccer are caused by heading a ball or attempting to head a ball and colliding with another player, and evidence is mounting from studies of boxers and football players that the younger one is exposed to repetitive brain trauma, the greater the risk of later life consequences. I have been forced to retire far too many young athletes with post-concussion syndrome due to having suffered multiple concussions prior to high school, and this is a clear opportunity to make soccer safer without hurting the game,” said Robert Cantu, MD. Dr. Cantu is a neurosurgeon, concussion expert and a founding member of the Sports Legacy Institute. SLI is a PASS partner, as is the Santa Clara University Institute of Sports Law and Ethics. Both organizations are involved with concussion research and advocacy.
Keep up with the PASS campaign through #SaferSoccer or by visiting SaferSoccer.org.
Bria Price, 18, is a rising senior at Cesar Chavez PCHS in the District of Columbia.