Youth: Headers Aren’t The Problem- Soccer Headgear May Reduce Concussion Risks, Study Reports
Jun 14, 2019
To improve concussion prevention in soccer, many youth coaches have been teaching their players to avoid headers. Following the 2015 US Soccer Federation’s partial ban of headers, many leagues are even going so far as banning headers for specific age groups. But simply avoiding headers doesn’t address the root of the problem.
Over the last two decades, concussion awareness has skyrocketed. With awareness came concerns that headers were responsible for the high potential for concussions in soccer. Specifically, soccer has the highest rate of concussions among female athletes.
As knowledge of concussions has grown, we now understand that it is not only head contact that leads to concussions. With this knowledge and ongoing research, it has become apparent that heading the ball isn’t the primary cause of concussions.
What is the Most Common Cause of Concussions in Soccer?
In soccer, the most common cause of concussion is collisions. Body-on-body collisions can generate a lot of force, especially if the players are running towards each other. This can generate enough force to rattle the brain significantly, causing lasting damage as the brain bounces around within the cranium, damaging itself.
A full-blown concussion can occur even without direct head impact, although head-to-head collisions are the primary cause. Unfortunately, collisions are hard to prevent without reducing the competitive nature of the game.
Can Heading the Ball Cause a Concussion?
Although headers are not the primary cause, they are not entirely without risk. Current estimates suggest that headers may contribute to about 10% of concussions. However, these concussions are generally indirectly tied to the condition, rather than the direct cause. These lighter hits are more often tied to sub-concussive impact.
Sub-concussive impacts don’t pose as permanent a risk as a full-blown concussion. But they are serious enough to affect brain function over the next 1-2 days.
According to a study published in EBioMedicine, heading a soccer ball can cause instant changes in the brain. Although the changes are small, they affect both motor response and memory recall for up to 24 hours. Other studies in both the United Kingdom (University of Stirling) and the United States (Einstein Institute in New York) have confirmed these results.
Headgear for Preventing Soccer Concussions
Although there is no surefire way to completely prevent concussions, a recent laboratory study by Virginia Tech Helmet Lab (the same lab that ranks American football and hockey helmets) concluded that soccer headgear can significantly decrease the risk. Decreasing the risk of concussion doesn’t just protect your head, it keeps you in the game.
“Concussion” Headbands for Soccer
According to the Virginia Tech Helmet Lab, helmets and headbands have been shown to significantly reduce the impact of collisions. As a result, Virginia Tech’s models conclude that they dramatically reduce the risk of concussions. In soccer, most players prefer the headband-style protection over traditional full-coverage helmets. They are lightweight, breathable, and don’t get in the way of your vision or play.
According to Virginia Tech, the ExoShield Head Guard is the top-ranked most protective product and reduces the risk of head injuries by 84%. With military grade materials, it’s capable of absorbing tremendous impact. Furthermore, a 2-year study of high school soccer players by University of Wisconsin Madison showed that- while the "average" headgear did not significantly reduce the risk of concussions- the Storelli ExoShield Head Guard statistically reduced the relative risk of concussions by 60%, the only product studied to achieve a statistical benefit.
Soccer headgear is by no means a perfect solution against head injuries. At best, it may help reduce risks. But for parents and players who prefer to play it safe, it may represent a practical option.
Watch the video below to see how the Storelli ExoShield Head Guard absorbs the force of a bowling ball:
In the 1960s, studies were cited claiming that mouthguards can prevent concussions, however, their hypotheses was never proven. Still, companies used the study to convince people to buy mouthguards to prevent concussions.
More recent studies have found no evidence that mouthguards prevent concussions.
Teaching Safe Play & Proper Form Helps Prevent Soccer Concussions
Aside from banning headers, there’s a move now towards teaching proper form instead. The truth is, competitive players are going to head the ball whether or not they are taught how. They can reduce their risks by learning proper header form.
As well, collisions aren’t something that can be completely avoided in competitive play. By teaching safe play, coaches can help players learn to approach high-risk situations with less risk.
Combining safe play, proper form, and protective headgear helps players play their best while staying safe.Learn more about risks and prevention: Soccer Head Injuries, 7 Facts You Need to Know.