In an article I found recently, a Connecticut (USA) soccer club was reported to have banned ‘heading’ the ball for children under the age of ten. For those unaware, heading basically involves using the head as one would their foot. That is, scoring goals, clearing the ball from defence and passing to other players using the head to strike the ball.
To use that old cliche again, “back in my day…”, I played soccer for three years at the same park level as the Connecticut club. I was over the age of ten, but I remember some of those headers felt like they were pulverising the old grey matter. It was something you braced for and had to be reasonably well trained to pull it off. There is one main reason I mention that I was over the age of ten and that is because at the level I was playing at, for memory it was under 12, the balls are kicked harder, higher and faster. When you headed those balls into goal or to an open teammate, you were meeting several kilograms of force. Sounds brutal and you certainly felt it, but like many others I have come through the other side and been able to tell the story of heading a ball clear over the goals. Our striker once scored using the technique.
Ultimately though, look at the idols of young soccer players these days. Christiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Lionel Messi, Emile Heskey. All of these players are at the level they are through relentless practice from the time they left the womb. That’s not to say every child will reach those heights, but to ban headers is to restrict development. An eleven-year-old player who has never headed the ball and is suddenly allowed to is in for a huge shock. Kids need practice with this skill and the earlier the better. I will not peddle the “it toughens them up” angle, but if nothing else, early training perfects the technique required to head the ball effectively and without injury.
Don’t start ferociously kicking balls at your five-year-old. But try to promote in your own home responsible physical activity for young kids. It is the best head start they can get for a healthy lifestyle!