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Header, football & kids

to-header-or-not-to-header-that-is-the-question-1Q: Does my child header a football at Enjoy-a-Ball?

The short answer is no.

At Enjoy-a-Ball we teach fundamental movement skills (Physi-Ball to BeeBops) before we progress those basic skills to more specific sports skills (PlayBall to Champs). We also teach 10 different ball sports, so your child will only be playing football once every 10 weeks and for us the emphasis is on developing the host of skills and techniques that make up “the beautiful game” – from the foot skills that are the hallmark of the sport and the awareness skills of where you are on the field to (occasionally) teaching technique for heading a ball, with a much lighter, plastic ball. (The balls we use are not regulation footballs – we use a light, soft-touch plastic ball). To put it into context: In that lesson they may header the ball 3 times in a period of an hour.

Listing the facts (that we are currently aware of) does not detract from the fact that this is an issue where we need to take guidance from every parent and also individual coaches. If you would prefer for your child not to header a ball during football based sessions, please make your coach aware of this, and by the same token your child’s Enjoy-a-Ball coach may decide not to include heading technique in the programme they offer.

As always – if you have any insight or questions please feel free to get in touch for a chat!

Read on for some information that is out there in the public domain and that you might find interesting.

Is heading a football dangerous for kids?

Last year the US Soccer Federation outlined plans to stop children aged 10 and under heading footballs, and to limit the amount of heading in practice for children aged 11 to 13. In light of the ban in the US, the English FA moved to clarify their position. They said they would announce new guidelines on identifying, managing and treating head injuries, but no changes to how the game is played will be included.

Dr Michael Grey, a leading neuroscientist from the University of Birmingham, said it was dangerous for children to head a football.
“Children are more susceptible to head injuries than adults, he says. This is because their heads are disproportionately large, and their neck muscles are not sufficiently strong to brace against the impact of a header. “Therefore the brain is shaking around in the cranium more. Maybe we need to be looking at things like training for neck strength, and not allowing heading practice for children with particularly weak neck muscles.” Dr Grey says there needs to be more research, and when asked, in the absence of a ban, should parents try to stop their children heading the ball? “If I had a child of that age, I would have them playing football – all kids should be out there playing sport – but I would have them on a team that doesn’t practice headers.”

Headway, a UK based brain injury association cite a lack of clear evidence as their reason for not backing a ban at this stage.

“A number of small-scale studies have been published or are on-going at present addressing the issue of sub-concussive blows, but we are yet to see scientific consensus on whether there is a link between heading a football and neurological damage.”

What they are clear in pointing out is that much work is still required in raising awareness .

And of course there is also the fact that not all headers are the same. A hard-driven regulation-sized ball packs a wallop. A smaller, underinflated ball gently tossed by a coach does not. The coaches on a NSCAA panel wondered whether they could at least use soft, smaller balls to teach proper technique – a suggestion Robert Cantu, the neurosurgeon who works with Brandi Chastain and company to press for action on soccer safety, did not dismiss.

Here are just some of the interesting questions asked in the interview:
Do you worry that by focusing on the injury-causing potential of kids’ sports you’ll actually scare kids and parents away?

“We need kids playing sports. But I think we need them playing sports safer…. Take the most injurious activity for head injury out of it, but let the rest of the sport go on. And that’s playing soccer without heading. I want parents to not for a second think about not having their kids play sports. It’s vital that they play sports. Now what sports they play and how they play those sports, we can have a discussion about that perhaps. But definitely kids need to be in sports. And those that are playing contact/collision sports hopefully are going to be playing them under coaches that are going to teach the proper technique and under coaches that are going to minimize the full contact aspects of practice and be teaching skill drills whenever possible.
We can greatly eliminate the chance for concussion and drastically reduce the amount of sub-concussive trauma by just reducing the way we practice sports, taking the full collision practices and holding them to a bare minimum.”

So, since you’re a father — let’s say you were today a father of young kids, would you encourage them to play soccer, wholeheartedly?

DR. ROBERT CANTU: I would wholeheartedly want my children playing soccer. If they were young, if they were under the age of 14, I would ask them to not head the ball and make a little pact with the coach. And that probably would preclude what positions they played on the soccer team somewhat, but I would want them playing soccer full-bore.



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