If you’re headed out to the soccer field, listen up. Heading every ball that comes your way could be harmful to the stuff inside your head. According to research presented at the Radiological Society of North America’s 97th Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting, improper heading techniques can cause traumatic brain injuries.
Amateur soccer players involved in the study revealed a correlation between the number of balls they had headed during their soccer careers and damage to their brain’s frontal lobe—the region that controls attention, executive functioning, higher-order visual functions and memory. The most damage was found in athletes who had headed 1,000 to 5,000 balls per year, according to a report in Medscape Today.
Proper Heading Technique
Heading is commonplace in soccer drills, but if you want to prevent brain injury, it’s important to do it correctly. The soccer ball should make contact with your forehead, not the crown or side of your head. Keep your shoulders, neck and torso in line with your head. Jumping and twisting to angle toward the ball—or closing your eyes—can lead to injury. (Former Real Salt Lake assistant coach Brian Johnson gives additional tips for safely getting your head in the game.)
Improving Your Game
Although heading the ball looks cool, balance your practice sessions with drills and exercises that focus on agility, coordination and speed. Burn through a few 50-Yard Shuttles, remembering to switch up your start foot. Weave through stationary cones. Improve your posture and balance by doing yoga post-workout.
Training your body to respond to plays coming from every direction will ultimately improve your heading technique—and overall soccer performance.