Is it safe to use your head?

Soccer Columnist

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Heading a soccer ball has been become a hot topic lately among parents and medicos due to questions whether repeated heading results in impaired brain function. Many parents wonder whether they should rush out and buy their child protective headgear, or simply not expose them to the sport. Despite being a contact sport, overall soccer is known to be a relatively safe sport. The majority of injuries experienced in soccer involve the knee and the ankle.

My personal experience as a coach and youth soccer administrator is that the amount of heading a child does should be proportionate to their age and physical growth stage. At ages 6-9, the incidence of heading is rare in a game, and good coaches place little emphasis on it during practice. As the child moves into the adolescent stage, the game starts to acquire more of an aerial dimension, and coaching should emphasize proper heading techniques. During high school and beyond, heading is a critical part of the game.

However, I'm not a doctor so it's instructive to hear the results of medical studies on this topic. A suburb of Milwaukee mandated head protection during games for all middle schools in the spring of 2000. According to the CSMS Committee on the Medical Aspects of Sports, "The use of headgear as a protective device is inconclusive as no studies have demonstrated the ability of the headgear to actually prevent concussive injury. In addition, the headgear has been criticized as being a potential source for increased neck injury, due to the increased mass at the head resulting in increased rotatory forces transmitted to the neck." The committee's report in December 2003 summarized its research by stating, "A review of the most recent literature shows no evidence that repetitive soccer heading will have any detrimental effect on brain function. Soccer players are at no greater risk to neurologic impairment than the general population."

The question among many parents is: Will repetitive soccer heading and/or concussions result in lower SAT scores and impair brain function in my child? The American Journal of Sports Medicine published the results of an extensive study in 2002. The study concluded that in collegiate soccer players who had an average of 15 seasons of soccer play, there was no difference in SAT scores or any evidence of impaired brain function when compared to a matched control group of nonathletic college students.

? Congratulations and good luck to the Rapids U12 girls, Strikers U13 girls and Strikers U14 Orange girls. The Rapids, coached by 'Cat' Chicos finished with a strong performance in the A (top) division of the Illinois Womens' Soccer League this past fall, while the two Strikers girls teams earned promotion from the C to B divisions for this spring. Additionally, the Rapids U12G and Strikers U14G Orange teams will compete for the Illinois State Cup tournament which starts in May.


? Oak Park native Mark Rosenberg continues to move up the Olympic Development Program ladder. Mark as you might recall from my past columns, is a talented 16-year-old Oak Park soccer player who has progressed from the Illinois state ODP team to the 13-state regional ODP team. Recently Mark, a sophomore at OPRF, was one of only a handful of regional ODP players selected to compete in national ODP competition in Dallas. His team came away with a national title.

? There must be something about refereeing that's boosting its popularity. One thing's for certain: it's not the money. There were over 75 new and re-certifying referees in attendance at the local referee clinic held at OPRF a few weeks ago. Thanks to OP native and state referee candidate Bob Canavan and the Strikers soccer club for organizing this event.

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