Heading the ball banned in U.S. youth soccer - should B.C. follow suit?
Players under 10 can't head the ball at all; 11–13 year olds can head in practice only
The U.S. Soccer Federation has banned heading the ball in youth soccer for players under 10 years of age after a class action lawsuit revolving around concussions.
The federation also restricted heading the ball for players aged 11–13; they are allowed to head in practice sessions, but not in games.
The Canadian Paediatric Society has warned against the practice in youth games, and according to Emma Humphries, head coach of the Whitecaps FC girls' program, there's no reason to include it, especially for the youngest players.
"Because kids aren't as coordinated as adults, and also their brains aren't as fully developed, the risk of concussion ... is obviously increased," Humphries told On The Coast's Gloria Macarenko.
"You also risk putting kids off the game because no [under 10] kid really is super keen to put their head to a fast-moving ball."
- Soccer concussions more likely from contact with foe than ball, study finds
- Concussions in soccer: Neuroscientists raise red flag over heading hazards
- Heading in soccer may have long-term cognitive effects: researchers
Humphries says her team has two players dealing with concussions at the moment, including one who has spent eight to nine weeks struggling with a concussion sustained during the national under-17 development camp.
She says that player has been affected off the field as well, struggling with homework and other activities.
"It's just really important that you take care for their return to get back into things. Too many concussions is dangerous."
Focus on technical skills
Humphries says players under 10 should be focused on technical skills for the feet, and the ball usually isn't in the air anyway.
She agrees with the idea of slowly introducing heading the ball, in practice at first, so kids develop safer ways of heading.
"For example, if you hit the ball on the top of your head … it's going to be extremely painful," she said.
"If it comes to your forehead and you're set with a low centre of gravity, and going towards the ball with the middle of your forehead, attacking the ball, not the ball hitting you, it won't hurt."
"So there is a correct technique to use, where it's safe … and you get the right outcome."
In the end, Humphries says, she thinks less emphasis on heading the ball at the youth level would make sense for B.C. as well as the U.S.