Heading Safety Tips from Children’s Hospital of LA

Hello AYSO 13 Families,

As most of you know, one of the ways in which AYSO protects the safety of children is by limiting the risk of head concussion accidents.  Notably, we limit the ages at which kids are permitted to use their heads in playing the soccer ball.

Heading the ball – the soccer technique in which a player uses their head to redirect the flight of the ballis a very common practice, but it’s also a risky part of soccer when it comes to head injuries.

Surprisingly, the act of hitting the ball with the head isn’t the biggest concussion risk. Most head injuries occur as a consequence of athlete-to-athlete contact during heading. When attempting to hit the ball, players can risk striking one another, or risk losing balance and striking the ground.

So, in all AYSO events, to avoid the risk of injury, we do not permit heading by any player who is younger than 10 years old. In the Fall season of 2018, this means that no heading will be permitted in any game in which one or more of the participating players were born in 2008 or later. (This includes all games in our “11U,” mixed-12U, and all other soccer programs for younger players.)

When kids are finally introduced to heading, it should be under the careful guidance of an experienced coach.

Moreover, we’d like to share the following notes and guidance from our sponsors at the Sports Medicine Program at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA).

Here are their comments and recommendations:

AYSO and the U.S. Soccer Federation are mandating the following heading restrictions:

  • Heading is NOT permitted during ANY practices or games for athletes less than 10 years old.
  • Heading is LIMITED during training sessions for athletes 11-13 years old.

Ways to stay safe

  • Help players strengthen their heading musculature. Training should begin with a lightweight spherical object like a balloon, and work up from there:
    • Balloon
    • Sponge (NERF™-type) ball
    • Play ball (The soft, air-filled balls sold from big bins in grocery, drug and toy stores)
    • Volleyball
    • Partially deflated soccer ball
    • Properly inflatedappropriately-sized soccer ball
  • Do not force young athletes to head the ball.
  • Avoid excess heading training in practices.
  • Teach good heading technique:
    • Eyes open
    • Dynamic strike
    • Moving toward the ball
    • Bending at waist
    • Maintaining balance
  • Choose the right ball
    • FIFA-certified
    • Decrease air pressure
    • Stitched is better than thermal molded
    • Correct size is important!
  • Don’t expect headgear to solve the problem. Some companies sell specialty headgear products with animpact-absorbing foam layer that may decrease head-to-hard surface impacts. Some studies demonstrate a possible decreased risk of concussion. However, headgear may also provide a false sense of security and promote more aggressive play, or make players more of a target by others. Additionally, headgear increases head mass, which can actually increase propensity for concussion.

As in all situations, please use your common sense! Stay safe, and keep your athletes in the game.

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