Heading The Ball

Sections of the following article are excerpted from "Heading the Soccer Ball," an article published online by The Institute for Sports Medicine at Children's Memorial Hospital. To read the complete article, click here

Heading is a unique skill, as few other ball games exist in which the ball can be or is played with the head. This important skill is used for advancing the ball towards an opponent's goal, challenging and intercepting an aerial ball, or in an attempt to score. Below are a series of frequently asked heading questions answered by the Children's Memorial Hospital Institute for Sports Medicine.

Can heading the soccer ball cause problems with brain function?

Several research studies have looked at this question and the results have been conflicting. At present, there are no studies which show that repeated heading of a soccer ball causes long-term problems with thinking or memory.

Is heading the soccer ball safe for children?

Soccer is a contact sport that carries a risk of head injury and collision. Most head injuries that occur during soccer occur when a player hits their head against the ground or collides with another player. Heading the ball does not seem to be a significant cause of acute injury. Most research studies examining the safety of heading have involved collegiate and professional soccer players. We don't have any long term research studies to show that heading is safe for children. Based on the data that is available, physicians emphasize the importance of training on proper heading technique as well as the use of a ball that is age-appropriate.

What are some of the fundamentals proper heading technique?

  • The goal is to contact the ball on the forehead at or near the hairline (the area where you would place your hand to detect a fever).
  • The player should be active; the popular coaching adage is "hit the ball; don't let the ball hit you."
  • The player's body should have the chin tucked toward the chest.
  • The arms are usually placed forward for better balance and to protect the player from other players.

At what age should they be allowed to start heading the ball?

There is no consensus in the medical and coaching community about when children should be allowed to be begin heading the ball. Some organizations do not recommend heading below the age of 10.

Will wearing protective headgear help prevent concussion?

No studies have proven that headgear reduces concussion rates in soccer players.  Laboratory studies using dummies and sensors to monitor force have suggested that headgear may help decrease the risk of head injury as a result of players colliding.

When can a player return to soccer following a head injury?

Every head injury is unique. Children and teens are especially vulnerable to having long-term problems if they return to contact sports too quickly following a head injury. If your child is involved in a collision during soccer and has symptoms of concussion such as headache, memory or concentration difficulty, mood changes, or dizziness, he or she should be evaluated by a physician with experience in treating concussions prior to being allowed to return to play.

"When introducing heading at 10 years of age, the focus should be on learning the correct technique and should only include the basics. Focus on technique and, where possible, use a softer ball (sponge, volleyball, etc.) as a starting point. No prolonged or competitive exercise should be used at the introductory stage; we want players to become comfortable and increase confidence in their heading skills before placing them in competitive environments. See below some age- appropriate heading exercises for U12 Players.

-- Gary White

Age-appropriate Heading Exercise for U12 Players:


Activity: Head it/Catch it

Description: A circle of players surrounds coach/server. Server moves around, softly tosses ball to players head. As the ball is in the air the server calls "head it" or "catch it" and the player must do the opposite. Make a mistake and a point is given. The idea is to have the least points in a period of time.

Progress: Increase number of servers to players. Increase frequency of tosses.

Purpose:

  • Introduction to heading
  • Concentration of commands

Activity:Head Juggling

Description: In pairs, in an open area, players head the ball to each other counting successful exchanges. Give players the opportunity to beat their previous score.

Progress: Have players move across the field heading in pairs. Players may juggle with head before heading back to partner.

Purpose:

  • Controlled heading
  • Eye on the ball
  • Read flight of ball
  • Area of contact

Activity: Throw/Head/Catch

Description: Two teams os 6 players in 35x40 yard area with goals. The objective is to head into the oppositions goal. Start play with two-handed, underhand throw by attacking team. The receiver attempts to head the ball to any teammate who, in turn, must catch it before it hits the ground or it's a turnover. He/She can take 3 steps and within 5 seconds must throw it to the next player, who heads it to another player, who catches it, tosses it for a teammate to head. All shots must be from headers. Defenders cannot block any throws. They can contest headers or intercept ball after a header.

Purpose:

  • Heading for attack
  • Direct ball to goal, teammate, path of teammate
  • Timing of jump to attack ball at highest point