The Boston Globe’s Derrick Z. Jackson brings the science to a long-standing youth sports debate. Citing multiple studies, Jackson argued that it’s time to ban heading the ball in youth soccer. But the leagues are dragging their heels.
Although some recommend waiting until age 10 to practice heading, no major youth soccer organization in the United States has called for an outright ban on heading. Many in the sport remain torn as to whether it is safer to teach kids proper heading technique or disallow it altogether.
"There is still a lack of information to make a recommendation one way or the other," said Mike Singleton, executive director of Massachusetts Youth Soccer and head men's soccer coach at MIT. "The problem with banning heading is you'd have kids running out of the way of balls, and they might be banging into each other that way."
Others worried that trying to ban heading was impossible thanks to emulation; the kids see pro players head the ball, and they want to try it, too. So, the thinking goes, it’s better to teach them how to safely head a soccer ball rather than ban the tactic.
But it’s not just the kids who are getting warnings about heading the ball in soccer. Last year, Slate’s Stefan Fatsis excoriated the National Women’s Soccer League for its handling of an Abby Wambach head injury. In this video, you see Wambach take a vicious shot to the head from a kicked ball. Rather than allow extra time for proper treatment, the referee prevents Wambach’s trainers from examining her on the field, opting instead to let Wambach get up on her own.
Wambach later scored with a header, but collapsed again at the end of the game.
At the final whistle, Wambach dropped to her knees. Spirit goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris waved for help. "I could tell she was pretty dazed," Harris said afterward. "I said, 'Are you all right?' She was mumbling. That's not a good sign."
Is it really that important kids under the age of 10 do this, too?
Other youth sports ban or strongly discourage practices that may be too taxing for children. Little League has adopted strict pitch counts, and curve balls are strongly discouraged because young elbows may not be able to handle the torque required, according to CNN.