Soccer HeaderOur kids don’t have to play like the pros, even if we they think they’re ready. I mean really, what’s the rush?? I report this as a pediatrician & as a bona fide soccer mom to 2 boys under age 10:

The U.S. Soccer Federation yesterday announced a ban on “headers” for children under 10 years. There has been no new expert consensus (the new rule rose out of a lawsuit, not new pediatric expert opinion) that heading the ball causes changes/damage to the brain. Although headers have been found to cause concussions, more often children are concussed when hit by a falling ball or after a collision. Research published this fall in JAMA Pediatrics found about 30% of boys’ concussions and 25% of girls’ concussions in high school soccer are a result of heading. Regardless, more research is needed to determine the safety of heading the ball throughout young and late childhood. In the meantime there are 3 things we can all know (and advocate for)  as research teases out early head injury and the influence heading may have over an athlete’s lifetime:

  1. Headers require essential technique to reduce injury: If heading the ball, young players need to learn proper technique (head positioning, neck position, have appropriate muscular strength etc) so using their forehead they reduce likelihood for injury. Most pediatric sports experts opine that this is unlikely to be easy for little players to reliably learn this technique under age 10 years. It’s unclear what degree heading causes concussion and long-standing injury. “Collision,” pediatric experts wrote in 2010 for Pediatrics, “rather than purposeful heading, was found to be the most likely cause for acute head injuries in soccer players treated in emergency departments.” 
  2. Appropriate Balls: We need to reduce risk of injury by ensuring balls are appropriate size for players, that balls are NOT hyper-inflated and thus more firm, and that balls are water-resistant (so as to not take on water and be heavier). Smarter play, smart equipment. 
  3. Smarter Timelines For Rules: Graduated rules like this (no headers under 10, limited headers for young teens, and then routine headers thereafter) make sense. Not all 8 year-olds need to play by the rules of the pros. Why the rush?

Heading among pre-adolescents is usually a random act. Eyes shut. Head scrunched into neck. Shoulders clenched. ~ Slate.com

What About Football Americano?

This soccer ban coincides with a recent American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) statement discussing smarter football tackling. The AAP recommends that all officials and coaches for American football enforce the appropriate rules for tackling and adopt a “zero tolerance” approach for head-first, illegal hits, such as spear tackling.

Due to increasing evidence of the long-term risks head and neck injuries may pose for football players, doctors have called for a number of changes to be made to the sport of American football, including a reduction in the number of contact practices during the game and a postponement of tackling until youths reach a certain age.

Helpful Resources For Your Athlete If A Concussion Does Occur: