A rise in the number of concussions among youth soccer players, particularly girls, has led health officials and sports organizations to recommend a ban on “heading” the ball. Heading is considered an important move for most players, but research suggests that the risk of injury it poses to young players is greater than any benefit the move may have for the game. Some youth soccer organizations have already banned the practice for their teams.
The Hartford Courant reports that children and teenagers receive treatment in hospital emergency rooms for around 175,000 concussions and other traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) related to sports every years. Other estimates place the number as high as 300,000. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of sports-related TBIs in children and teens has gone up by sixty percent in the past decade. High school football, which is almost exclusively a male sport, accounts for the highest number of TBIs each year, with about 55,000. Girls’ soccer ranks second, with 29,000 TBIs reported per year, more than in all levels of boys’ soccer combined. The single-greatest cause of concussions in youth soccer players, researchers have found, is heading the ball. The impact of the ball and the player’s head is only part of the risk, along with the fact that players attempting to head the ball often collide with one another.
Although a concussion is considered a mild form of TBI, a single concussion can have long-term, debilitating effects if not treated properly. Many youth soccer players suffer multiple concussions over their soccer career. NBC Sports reported that some studies found a higher incidence of brain damage among adult players who frequently headed the ball, and estimated that amateur adult players head the ball an average of 1,000 to 1,500 times every year.