What would soccer look like if players couldn’t head the ball? Would every team play like Barcelona? Would someone invent some kind of protective headgear to make heading viable? Would players do it anyway?
Over at The Ringer, Noah Davis has a great piece on efforts within US Soccer and elsewhere to rework the sport to minimize heading. Davis conducts a sweeping survey of the grassroots campaign in American soccer to gather data and make the case that heading puts players— particularly children— at risk.
The piece cites US Soccer’s concussion initiative announced last year, which, among other things, bans heading for children aged 10 and under. English football stakeholders are considering a similar measure, and if they go that route, it could have wide-reaching implications for the sport.
Davis also cited the advocacy work of former New England Revolution and USMNT forward Taylor Twellman, who in retirement has become outspoken in efforts to increase awareness of concussion injuries in soccer. Twellman has maintained that if the rules of association football were invented today, given what we know now about concussions and TBI, heading would not be allowed.
The article makes a convincing case the presence of a tectonic shift in the sport and posits that soccer could look very different in the years to come.
”Heading won’t ever go away. It’s too intertwined into the fabric that makes soccer the world’s most popular sport to disappear completely. At the youth level, vocal critics fear that if children don’t learn how to head the ball when they are young, they never will. Plus, it’s going to be nearly impossible to stamp out heading completely?—?even if we could get information to every youth team in every corner of the globe, there’s no way to ensure coaches won’t teach heading. Yet, from a safety standpoint, it’s dangerous and unnecessary to have kids with still-developing brains heading the ball hundreds of times. There’s a growing tension between the old-school, “rub some dirt on it and get back out there” traditionalists and a newer, more progressive group that’s focused on concussion awareness across all sports, not just soccer. Ever so slowly, the latter group is becoming the loudest voices on the field. The future of soccer might look more like the American youth game than it ever has before.”
Davis’ piece is long and absolutely worth your time.