Nearly 20% of all goals in the Barklays Premier League are scored from headers and often they provide the most dramatic goals. Yet here we are trying to relegate heading as a crime and especially dangerous to the health of youngsters.
Done incorrectly they are probably correct in their concerns, but learned properly heading is a great skill to acquire either as an attacker or defender.
My concerns are threefold for youngsters learning to head a ball:
1. MOVEMENT SKILLS
Sadly physical education in our schools has taken a back seat, and with it poor motor/coordination skills make the task of teaching the lead-up to a header more difficult.
The approach to head a ball is just as important as the header itself. Watching many youth and junior games it amazes me at how many players cannot jump effectively to head a ball. Often they go up with a two footed take-off, like a rocket with a vertical leap. Even if they manage contact with the ball, it goes vertically like the jump. Rather, the jump to head should be like that of a high-jumper, who takes off on one foot in order to gain greater elevation and power. This motion also allows players to get “side-on” allowing the use of their arms as buffers to prevent collisions of banging heads – the primary culprit of concussions from heading attempts in soccer.
2. THE BALL
Often too many balls are third rate in construction and have a glossy plastic casing which can be sharp, especially on a cold day. They become a dangerous missile.
This is the greater need. Teaching coaches and their charges how to learn to head a ball safely & properly. Thus learning both jumping & heading skills.
4. The “NO BRAINER” Solution: FUTSAL
For U-12’s and down, futsal would provide the best answer to both improve overall soccer skills and reduce the overall heading incidents a youth experience throughout their year of play. In futsal, the ball virtually lives on the ground and rarely demands a header.
Especially for pre-teens futsal is the best introduction to the sport as the ball teaches “feel” and sensitivity, where skill and youngsters win. Plus you you can play on parking lots which are frequently empty and cost zero.
In this one adaptation of teaching the game to our youth, we would produce more skillful players than we would know what to do with.
U.S. Soccer doesn’t need a 1,000 lawyers or insurance companies to address the issues related to concussions and heading, it just needs our best players go out into communities and spread the word on proper execution and alternatives.