Youth: How to Make Aerial Challenges in Soccer Safer

Mar 2, 2021

Soccer has more than earned its nickname of the “beautiful game”. Part of the reason it is so captivating to watch is the many ways the ball can move - skillfully dribbled, swiftly passed, or sent soaring into the air. For youths learning soccer, managing an airborne ball is a key skill, practiced through exercises known as “aerial challenges.”

While managing airborne soccer balls is key, it can also be one of the most dangerous parts of the game. Players going for the same ball can collide with each other, or be knocked to the ground, causing a risk of head trauma. 

Preventing contact entirely with other players is impossible during games and practices, but there are ways to reduce the risks of aerial challenges. We’ll show how preparation and proper soccer protective gear can lower the risk of player-to-player contact during aerial challenges, and reduce the risk of serious injury if contact does happen. 

Practice Safe and Sound Techniques

The most important part of aerial challenge safety is to have your players practice these techniques solo before they begin to practice with other players or try these techniques in a game. This will get them used to the proper way to gain control of an aerial ball safely.

When practicing solo, make sure that every player has plenty of space to work with. This isn’t just for safety - more space when catching an aerial ball allows a player more room to make successive plays. You can use cones or lines on the field to make sure players each have enough space.

You should generally discourage aerial challenges for younger players, saving it for those who are somewhat more advanced. You should also practice more reliable techniques, instead of leaping headers. Every new soccer player wants to be the next Cristiano Ronaldo, but safety should always come first. Start by practicing using the laces to catch a ball, then move to the upper legs and chest. Make sure to emphasize that the goal is to bring the ball to a controlled stop, not to pull off a flashy but potentially dangerous move. 

Under no circumstances should you ever encourage players to try to physically force themselves at a player who is trying to control an aerial ball. This “undercut” technique may look flashy, but it will lead to serious falls and a high risk of severe head injury. 

Gear Up For Aerial Soccer

Even with practice and caution, collisions are always going to happen when players are keeping their eyes on a flying ball rather than their surroundings. If players are using proper and responsible techniques, they should avoid the worst kinds of collisions. Still, proper soccer concussion headgear will cut the risk down further. Soccer headgear can reduce the risk of the two most common kinds of head trauma caused by aerial challenges - impacting another player’s head as they both try a header, or falling and landing on the head or neck.

By wearing proper soccer headgear, you can mitigate, if not eliminate, the risks of these kinds of collisions. The best way is to use soccer concussion headgear in tandem with safe and responsible coaching and practice. 

The Storelli ExoShield Head Guard is the only headguard shown to reduce the risk of head injuries. A 3-year study at the Virginia Tech Helmet Lab found that the ExoShield Head Guard lowered the rate of injuries by as much as 84%. Take a look at our product page for more information on this critical study.

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