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Soccer Concussions are NOT Caused by Heading


Soccer Concussions are NOT Caused by Heading the Ball

On the surface, it appears that U.S Soccer has reached a new low in idiocy. Banning headers in the youth game is the STUPIDEST thing I’ve ever heard of in my 30+ years of coaching youth soccer. The absolute DUMBEST. However, the bans are only for our Youth National teams, which makes sense. After all, these are the most aggressive and experienced players of the youth game.

In the recreation and community “competitive” levels of youth soccer, the rules won’t change though. Here’s why:

Nearly 100% of youth soccer related concussions are NOT caused by heading the ball, or trying to head the ball.

Normal kids naturally do NOT want to head the ball. They know it’s going to hurt. How? Because they’ve been smacked in the face with the ball before.

The REAL Danger is Coaching (Stay with me here…)

Most kids who are new to the game are usually assigned to coaches who are equally new to the game. This is the REAL problem of our youth system and the actual CAUSE of concussions in young players. That’s because 99% of concussions in youth soccer games u-8 and younger are directly related to CHASING THE BALL.

Yes – the one strategy that most new players employ.

kid hit in face with soccer ballMost children who are brand new to the game employ a kick and chase strategy. They all run around in a group (beehive), chasing the ball from one end of the field to the other. About the only position that any coach emphasizes is defense.

In an effort to develop some sort of strategy, many new coaches in the u-6 and u-8 ranks will identify their hardest kicking player on the team and instruct him (usually) to stand in front of the goal and “clear the ball” when it comes in. The game ends up little more than a 5k run, as one defender kicks the ball toward his opponent’s goal and the hive chases it. As the ball comes toward the other defender, he also clears it. For every game, this system of play guarantees AT LEAST one ball in the face, and an incredibly high risk of concussion. I’ve seen under 7 year olds who can kick a rolling ball 40 miles per hour.

So, under the new “no headers” rule, would the ref penalize the player for taking the ball to the face or should the blame actually be placed on the coach for not teaching the game properly to the kids? Or maybe blame U.S. Soccer for being so ridiculous.

U-9 to U-11

U-9 to u-11 concussion statistics aren’t much different, but the numbers are a lower, because these kids have learned about spacing and have developed real playing skills. However, it’s the same exact scenario: A quick forward chases a loose ball toward a lone defender or goalkeeper and WHAM! The forward takes a 50mph ball to the face. I’ve seen one of these situations even result in a goal.

It’s in the older divisions and in the pros that these rules would be most beneficial, as concussions come from 2 players charging into a 50/50 aerial situation, but it’s not the ball that causes the damage – It’s the other guy’s head. Rugby helmets might be a good solution for that scenario.  Again though, it’s NOT the kids.  It’s the adults and the most competitive older youth players.

The American youth soccer system has reached a new low today. If you thought we were behind in player development before, watch what happens now.


About Author

Mike Slatton is a 2nd generation American youth soccer coach since 1984, and the son of one of the nation's first female licensed youth soccer coaches (Anita Slatton, 1979). He's also a professional soccer scout, a player since 1977, and the father of three adult and teenage children who all play or have played the game. "My job as a youth soccer coach is to develop confident, detail oriented problem solvers who can react quickly under pressure. It's important that players NOT be afraid of making mistakes, to encourage an appreciation of failure as a learning tool. This relates to life - not just soccer."

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