The U.S Soccer Federation has banned heading for kids 10yrs and under and limited it to only during practice time for those between the ages of 11 - 14yrs old. This new regulation by the organisation kicks in January 1st 2016.
As an avid player & lover of the game, but also an exercise physiologist, I have very mixed feelings about this.
Heading is such an integral part of the game. This is not about improving protective gears like the wearing of shine guards, this is taking away a key component of what distinguishes soccer from other sports. Plus who wants to practice heading for 3 years without being able to use what you are practicing daily in a game?
Didn't the parents understand that soccer is a CONTACT sport?
As long as its a contact sports where two or more people have to interact within a given space, injury is likely to happen. Where are we heading with this? Are we soon going to require a "NO TOUCHING" each other rule in team contact sports?
And even when there's no contact as in gymnastic or swimming.....injuries occur because your body is under duress. It's part of the consequences of training your body to withstand a certain amount of stress in an effort to perfect a skill.
#2. Implement coaching curriculum to teach kids about proper heading techniques and how to handle air balls. America is still struggling behind the world when it comes to the technical skills of playing soccer. From my observations, kids here don't play "safe". They just throw their bodies on the ball or incoming traffic from other player. The goal should be to work on improving those technical and safety first skills. Because if you don't improve those skills, those players will grow up being adults who still don't understand how to safely handle a heading situation in a game. And will still end up causing concussions.
In addition to changes in coaching curriculum, perhaps also improving the license requirements to be a soccer coach. I'm not sure what the requirements are at the moment. Most coaches are former athletes of the same sport so they have the experience. Be that as it may, perhaps the licensing process should include an extensive education on heading and air balls.
#3. Why haven't they taken out the whole "tackling" and "slamming" players down part of american football?
American Football is an even worst contact sports with many cases of young athletes having severe injuries and dying. Yet they haven't come up with stricter regulations. Even at the professional level there are many documented cases of long term brain injuries that continue after the players retire. Nothing is being done to address that. Why? Is it because Football is a billion dollar industry and there are corporations who want to protect their investments?
In America, soccer is considered a middle class sports while football and basketball continues to be an opportunity for kids from low income families to rise out of poverty. Lebron James is known for saying how he needed sports to get out of poverty but his kids don't need to play for those reasons. This was his explanation for banning his kids from playing football until high school when they understand the physical demands and risks involved. In general, there seems to be a disparity with the concernment of youth players in these sports by their respective communities. It seems like the potential of producing a millionaire NFL player triumphs the risks involved to both parents and industry whereas since the soccer industry is still relative young , why let your kid sustain such major trauma when the likely hood of a professional career are limited.
#4 Research data shows that most of the concussions where player-to-player related not the ball. Which reaffirms my point about teaching techniques; how to safely position yourself to react when contesting for an air ball with an opponent. If kids are heading themselves and not their target (the ball) that't a huge technical problem, not a ball issue. Which also brings back to my observation of kids throwing themselves like rag dolls towards an opponent or a ball in an attempt to be "defensive".
In my 4 years NCAA Division II soccer career, I slide tackled less than 10 times. This allowed me to walk away without ever having a torn anterior cruciate ligament. On the other hand, half of my team mates came to college with already 1 ACL injury from high school or eventually got one/both in college. I observed that this happened more often with my american team mates than the foreign students on the team. And this wasn't a surprised because they played so wrecklessly with little concern about getting injured. In those moments, I confused technical disabilities with passion. But now I know better.
Nevertheless, as an Exercise Physiologist banning head injuries at this age is great if simultaneous effort is made to correct heading and air ball techniques. If the behavior and skill is not addressed, our youths will grow up to be adult soccer players who still don't know how to safely approach an air ball. And when that happens, are we going to then ban heading in adult soccer leagues too?