The soccer concussion is currently the biggest [safety] problem soccer faces in America, especially for girls ages 13-16. It’s an issue in men’s and women’s professional soccer too, but just not as many concussion cases. I think the main thing soccer parents, players and coaches need to know is how we can lower these concussion cases. Proper training in educating the players is what’s needed. Below I have a video with 20 tips on heading and protecting yourself. Note: This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience. Click here to read my full disclosure policy.
The buzz in the media (but what parents don’t know)
You have probably heard all the buzz in the media (60 minutes) about concussions in soccer. The somewhat new rule that kids ages 10 & under can’t head the soccer ball in practice or games. The rule is if players do head the ball in a game it will be treated like a hand ball, thus rewarding the other team a free kick.
I have written 3 other articles about heading, as I’m eager to help better educate our soccer community. This article is not because of the buzz, but because this is something that’s very important to me. I feel I have have to do my part in helping parents, players and coaches learn and keep players safe.
The problems with the new header rule
Females ages 13+ are getting most of the concussions, so why have Under 10 not head the ball? Such practice means they don’t have enough time from ages 11-12 to get good at heading the ball before they reach that critical age of 13+ where so many get concussions.
If they are going to take heading out of soccer for kids 10 and under, you should just not let the girls ages 13+ head the ball either. You can learn more about the new header rule on US Soccer.
Volleyballs would help teach soccer players how to head
For me, kids ages 10+ should practice heading for 5 mins every other week using volleyballs. The reason for volleyballs is they are so much lighter and softer. This allows for players to focus on the technique, instead of being nervous to head the soccer ball. The players born before 2008 seem to be scared to head the ball because they are told they are not allowed to head to protect them from concussion.
Most of the kids getting concussions before the no header rule were girls ages 13-17. So with this, we need our younger players ages 9-12 using volleyballs one practice per month. In these practices they need to be up close in groups of 2 and 3. That way they get good at heading the ball back towards and redirecting them. Getting their skills up and eliminate fear is vital for training youth soccer players.
The problem if you take heading out
Now kids are getting kicked in the face because they are all trying to kick the ball up high since they aren’t allowed to head it. This is called a ‘high kick’ (dangerous play) and has always been a foul no matter what.
Also once the kids are allowed to head the ball they are going to feel more afraid because they had always been told not to due to concussions. So I feel that the problem will continue if something else that is not changed.
5 ways to help solve the soccer concussion problem
- Don’t allow them to head the ball on Punts and Goal Kicks. For players who don’t know how to properly head a ball this is a dangerous practice. Punts and Goal Kicks happen all the time. I think for crosses during run of play they should still be able to head. It’s difficult for a defender or attacking player to just let the ball travel past their face and not try to head.
- Lighter Ball. If you try kicking the difference of a size 5 official ball for ages 12 – adults, compared to a size 4 it’s a big difference in weight when trying to kick or head. So maybe take a little air out of the ball.
- Mandatory Heading 5 Mins each week to help teach kids how to head the ball. Younger kids you can use a volleyball since its much softer/lighter. Another idea is using those nets that hold 1 ball and let a ball hang from the goal or ceiling and practice jumping to head.
- Strengthening the neck is going to help reduce injury, so a few ideas you can use are using a volleyball to practice heading. This will help not only strengthen the neck but also give you the skills you need. Sit-ups, push-ups are going to help strengthen everything from the neck down to the core.
- Teaching, Learning & Training is going to help players know when & how to go up for a header. If you don’t practice this than you are at higher risk. There is always a chance to get injured but let’s do as much as we can to help reduce it.
When a soccer concussion precipitates retirement
I know both youth players and adults who used to play soccer up to the highest level & had to say goodbye to soccer due to concussions. Two big name professionals who had to retire due to concussions are Taylor Twellman & Davy Arnaud (MLS & National Team players). Both players were drafted in the MLS the same year as myself. I know more about these guys particularly, but I really couldn’t tell you any others of the top of my head who had issues. [MLS SuperDraft 2002]
Taylor (now a commentator for ESPN) had to end his career earlier than expected and Davy (Currently an Asst Coach; MLS) ended up playing 14 years in the MLS before having to retire the start of his 14 year. This was the year he planned to retire. Davy told me that his 3rd career concussion gave him a hard time & he couldn’t recover from it in time to play the next season. He took time off in the off-season, but as he came back for pre-season the next year he would feel the effects during conditioning.
When it’s not your choice
To me it’s different having to stop playing a sport because both the Dr. said you have to and you just physically can’t do it at the level you are used to. I am sure they can go and play men’s league pick-up games but that’s not the same as playing at the level you got yourself to.
It’s the same with the youth players who get 3 concussions before they are 13 years old. Now don’t think this happens all of the time because most of the players I have trained have not had any serious problems. But the girls, especially ages 14+, I would say that 20% have had 1 concussion. I’m not a stats guy; I just write what I experience so if you want to know the exact % or #s go to Google.
I don’t write this to scare you, but to help educate you on the issue. That’s what I would want if someone trained my kids. Both of my kids played soccer growing up. My little one (age 8) still does. As a sports parent, we just want the best for them.
If it were my kids
- I would make sure they had proper training on how to deal with any type of ball so that they help prevent injury.
- Tell them to “be selfish” in the sense of knowing when to head the ball or not. Sometimes you just can’t go up for a header. I wouldn’t care if her coach tells her to head every ball; I want my kids to know how to be smart & know when to choose to NOT go up for the ball. If you watch Pro Soccer on TV you will see EVERY Game a player not going up for a certain header.
Watch how pro players choose when to not go up
If pro players are not going up for EVERY Header like some of these coaches want kids to go up for, what does that tell you? Kids shouldn’t go up for every header either. And this is not just about long term effects. It’s also about being able to play the rest of current game!
If you know when to go up and not go up, you will not only continue playing that specific game but you will reduce your long term effects. I’m not saying be scared to head. You just want to recognize when the other player doesn’t see you.
What you can do instead of jumping up for the header
If it’s a ball in the middle of the pitch and you see a defender going up reckless then make that choice to protect you and them by not going up. You can do things like act like you’re about to jump, just to maybe make them back out or miss the header. You can also use your body or hand to gently nudge them off balance, without making them turn over.
2 reasons concussions affect me as a father, friend & businessman
- Concussions put people who I know and care very much for at harm
- I want to better help as many players, parents and coaches to know more about the ‘ soccer concussion ‘. The reason I call it this is because there are several different ways players are getting it. Like I’ve said before it’s not necessarily from heading the ball. It is from going up for headers. If we can teach players how to better protect themselves the cases will drop.
I want people to be aware of the issue! It’s important to me for the 2 reason above. But also, because I really become a part of these kids & families lives and I want the best for them.
How kids are getting concussions
Listen! They are not getting concussions from practicing the correct ways to head the ball! Players are getting the soccer concussion from going up for headers. So challenging the header not just heading the ball is what is getting kids concussed. Kicked in the head, Head to head, whiplash effect from bodies colliding or falling, head hitting ground & ball to head.
2 headers NOT to do
Never use the temple (side of your head) & try not to use the top of the head to head the ball back where it came from. This is Tricky because you can use the top of your head to flick a ball on, going the same direction or close to the same direction. A Flick with the head is when the ball barely brushes the head. So forwards & Center mid’s get put in these situations often on Goal Kicks or Punts.
What part of the head should you use?
Several years ago, an ex-pro women’s soccer player [who won a world cup] was on 60 Minutes doing a special on Concussions in Soccer. It was alarming to me at the end of the show when the reporter asked the ex-pro where these players should head the ball. This player said where & then pointed to the middle of her forehead, which is not wrong but it’s not right either.
Some pro players don’t know how to head the ball!
Then I was talking about it with a college buddy who played as a midfielder and he thought she was right too! This shows you that just because someone plays college or pro doesn’t mean they know how to do certain things. Plus there are some players that are just not good at heading the ball even though they are good players. I have headed a lot of balls as a 7 year pro defender and there are more than just one part of the head to use.
I played 4 years college, 7 years pro experiencing over 15 Countries as a Defender. One of my better attributes was being strong in the air. I played against Brian McBride, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Romario, Zinho, Eddie Johnson & others, so please trust me when I say it’s important how to head the ball and protect your future.
Helpful Checklists for Game Weekends
13 reasons players get concussions in soccer
- Rough Play & Accidental
- Taught to play overly aggressive (dirty)
- Bad Form & Education – Players using the wrong part of the head and the wrong time
- Not enough proper reps
- Whiplash from body contact
- Kicked in the head
- Head hitting the Ground
- Head to Head
- Ball to Head instead of Head to Ball
- Weak Neck Muscles
- Elbow to Head or Shoulder to head
- Knee to head
- Landed on by a player where the body it’s the concussed players head and the head hits the ground getting sandwiched
15+ Symptoms for Soccer Concussion
Usually self-diagnosable and happen soon after but can sometimes take notice a few day or weeks after
- Headache or neck pain Can be persistent or severe
- Poor Balance
- Disoriented / Confusion
- Nausea or vomiting
- Mild Depression
- Ringing ears
- Sensitivity to light
- Mood Changes
- Blurred Vision
- Slow to Think or Speak
- Loss of sense or smell
Proper care for a soccer concussion
The day it happens make sure you don’t take a nap or go to sleep for several hours.
- See a doctor if any of these things are happening and
- Use your ‘gut’ judgment because it is serious
- Rest to let the brain recover at least for a few days or even a week
- Close Monitoring
- Reduce sports, running, & jumping
- Reduce TV, Video Games or even too much socializing
Please share with friends & family. Other sports are not immune to this problem so share with all!
*NOTE: I am not a physician. Please always consult with your medical provider for an assessment & treatment plan.