Safer Soccer Initiative: No heading in soccer until high school
By Greg Bach
The National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS), as part of its ongoing efforts to create awareness, educate and help limit concussions at the youth sports level, now supports a national movement calling for no heading in soccer before high school, or before age 14 in age-based leagues.
The Sports Legacy Institute (SLI), a leading concussion research and advocacy nonprofit, and the Santa Clara University Institute of Sports Law and Ethics (ISLE) teamed up on their Safer Soccer Initiative to educate parents and coaches on the risks of headers in soccer prior to high school.
“As a professional, and now a parent and coach, I believe that the benefits of developing heading skills as children are not worth the thousands of additional concussions that youth soccer players will suffer,” says former U.S. Women’s National Team player and ISLE board member Brandi Chastain, who is leading the campaign along with former teammates Cindy Parlow Cone and Joy Fawcett and SLI medical director and concussion expert Dr. Robert Cantu.
“It’s imperative that as volunteer coaches, parents and administrators we do everything possible to help keep young athletes safe,” says John Engh, chief operating officer of NAYS. “We are proud to support the Safer Soccer Initiative that promotes safety without affecting the quality of the participants’ experiences.”
SportingKid Live spoke with Parlow Cone, a youth soccer coach who during her illustrious playing career won two gold medals and a World Cup before retiring due to post-concussion syndrome, to get her insights on the importance of delaying heading until high school:
NAYS: Why is it important to you that we take heading out at the young age levels?
PARLOW CONE: I personally suffer from post-concussion syndrome and I’m involved in coaching youth soccer and I have just seen it over the past years become more and more of an issue. I’ve become more educated myself on the topic and just think it’s important for us to do all we can to help protect the young athletes participating in our great game.
NAYS: Do you see any negatives with taking heading out of youth soccer?
PARLOW CONE: I don’t believe that taking heading out of the game at our youngest ages is going to impact them developmentally in any way, shape or form and it will also help keep them safer. I think there are a lot of other things to focus on in the game besides heading the ball. If you take heading out of the game now kids are learning how to bring the ball down out of the air with other surfaces; how to strike the ball out of the air with other surfaces; and then we introduce heading later at the high school ages. I can’t honestly see a negative to doing this and trying to protect the youngest brains in our game.
NAYS: What do you recall about heading during your youth?
PARLOW CONE: I grew up heading the ball. I have no idea the age of my first header but I remember practicing heading all the time. I remember seeing stars often when heading the ball, especially if I headed it incorrectly or if the ball was a little hard. Do I have more issues now because I started heading at a younger age? We’ll probably never know the answers to those questions but I think moving into the future if we know better we have a responsibility to protect our youngest kids in this game. It’s a beautiful game, it’s a beautiful sport and I love everything about soccer, including heading. I just say we need to delay the introduction of heading a couple more years.
NAYS: What would be your advice to parents?
PARLOW CONE: Parents are ultimately in control of what their kids are allowed to do. I don’t have any kids myself but if I did I would not allow my son or daughter to head at these young ages regardless of it being allowed in competition or in training. I would let the coach know that my child is not allowed to head the ball.
Check back next week for Part II of our conversation with Cindy Parlow Cone.
Safer Soccer Initiative
Three-time Olympic gold medalist Rowdy Gaines with a message all young athletes need to hear
Olympic softball great Andrea Duran on using failure to work harder and achieve more
Olympic steeplechaser Colleen Quigley on the value of trying a variety of sports and how it shaped the trajectory of her life
Dr. Christopher Ahmad, co-author of PLAY BALL and head team physician for the New York Yankees, on keeping kids out of operating rooms and on the field