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Is Heading in Soccer Dangerous?

Is heading in soccer dangerous? It's a question that has met its fair share of controversy.

If you've never played soccer, heading may look pretty dangerous to the poor brain. Where else in life do you not want to duck away from an object flying straight at your head? However, soccer players know that there is a proper way to head the ball.

Yes, there is a technique to meeting a flying ball with your head. Dr. Frank Webbe, is a former soccer referee and coach who is also a psychologist specializing in sports psychology. He says there is good reason to believe that with proper technique, a player's risk for brain injury is low.

The problem is that in a fast-paced game of soccer, obstacles sometimes prevent a player from heading with good technique. And that's when problems are likely to arise.

Webbe and collaborators tested soccer players in neurocognitive performance such as attention, concentration, and speed of thinking.

They compared long-time soccer players to novices, as well as moderate-to-frequent headers to less than moderate headers. In addition, they tested people who had played soccer recently as well as people who hadn't played in some time.

The results suggested that more frequent headers are at more risk for brain injury than less frequent headers. As a group, frequent headers performed lower on cognition tests in the week after a game of frequent heading than did other subjects.

Also, players with the highest lifetime estimates of heading scored lowest overall on these cognition tests. The results convince Webbe that heading does indeed pose a threat to brain function and that more research needs to be done.

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