Following the recent US Youth Soccer rule changes and heading restrictions, there have been a swarm of studies and new findings concerning the impact of heading on the brain. We want to try to distill some of the concerns people are having with heading, what the studies have shown to date, and what you can do to help minimize brain trauma risk in soccer as a parent, coach, or player.
Recent findings have shown that the sub-concussive impacts of a regulation soccer ball cause both short term and long term mental health problems. Studies have shown that repeatedly heading a regulation ball causes short term impairment of brain function with as much as a 41-67% decline in memory test performance:
On average, soccer players head the ball six to 12 times during games, and 30 times or more during practice. Scientists are worried that repeated "subconcussive" impacts of the brain — getting shaken in the skull — might result in brain damage such as laceration of nerve fibers.
What recent research has found, is that there is a threshold number of 885 headers with a regulation ball that we don’t want to exceed per year in order to minimize the risk of developing long term brain damage symptoms. Players who had exceeded this threshold of 885 times a year or more showed cognitive impairments consistent with brains who had sustained traumatic brain injury.
"Our study provides compelling preliminary evidence that brain changes resembling mild traumatic brain injury are associated with frequently heading a soccer ball over many years," Says Dr. Michael L. Lipton, associate director of Magnetic Resonance Research Center at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University.
Another major concern for head injuries in soccer is from a collision with another player. In order to minimize the chances of players colliding heads during a header, the safest technique for performing a header needs to be trained. Just like learning any new skill, players need a high number of repetitions practicing proper technique to learn effectively.
...So how do soccer players practice these necessary repetitions without exceeding the threshold that causes brain damage?
Why soccer needs our product to exist:
We have created a solution to this problem in the form of a lightweight ball that maximizes the simulation of a normal ball's flight pattern, and minimizes the sub-concussive impact when heading the ball. (It doesn't even register in a test for impact by top concussion research labs!)* Tested using Tri-Ax SIM-P Technology*
“Eliminating head injuries in soccer is likely impossible, but reducing exposure and enhancing player safety is not,” says NSCAA Director of Coaching Education Ian Barker, who uses our ball for instruction in the new heading NSCAA course featuring Abby Wambach, focusing on techniques, practice activities and preparations. “What’s important is that coaches emphasize correct positioning and stance for executing safe, purposeful, and effective headers.”
Our lightweight ball allows players to get those high number of repetitions of practice that are needed to learn the safest technique for winning a header, while also keeping players well below that dangerous threshold of 885 headers per year with a regulation soccer ball. We have also included heading progressions and videos of how to use The Heading Trainer to teach correct heading in our free mobile app for iOS and Android. So, when the inevitable situation comes where players need to use their head during a match, they will do so more safely and effectively.
Through our Ball for a Ball program, for every Heading Trainer ball sold, we also donate a high quality soccer ball to disadvantaged youth in the USA through the ASK Foundation.