Study reveals new information on heading's impact on the brain

By Mike Woitalla

U.S. Soccer may soon no longer be the world's only federation that implements bans and limitations on heading at the youngest ages.

David Little, the chief executive of the Scottish Youth Football Association (SYFA),  said it would publish new heading guidelines "as soon as possible."

Little’s statement came in the wake of a study from Scotland’s University of Stirling, published in EBioMedicine, that identified “small but significant changes in brain function immediately after routine heading practice.”

The research entailed players ages 19 to 25 heading the ball 20 times from a machine designed to replicate the power and pace of a corner kick. The players were tested before and after the sessions on brain function and memory.

After just one session, memory-test performance was reduced up to 67 percent, but returned to normal within 24 hours.

The researchers concluded: “Although the magnitude of the acute changes observed was small, it is the presence of the effect that is of interest. This measure was previously shown to be altered in confirmed concussion, but the acute changes in corticomotor inhibition, accompanied by cognitive changes, following the sub-concussive impact of football heading raise concerns that this practice, routine in soccer, may affect brain health. …

“Although these changes in brain function were transient, these effects may signal direct consequences of routine soccer heading on (long-term) brain health which requires further study.”

Last year, U.S. Soccer rewrote the rules for youth soccer to take heading out of games and for U-11 and under and it implemented a limit on heading in practice at U-12 and U-13: a maximum of 30 minutes per week with no more that 15-20 headers per player, per week.

"What we need to know is what happens when that normal balance is disrupted over and over again as you do in weekly heading drills. Do the effects add up? Does the balance get disturbed permanently?” Magdalena Ietswaart, a cognitive neuroscientist and one of the authors of the report University of Stirling report, told the New York Times.

She added: “Our study does show that you probably should not head the ball the day before an exam. The brain is not really firing on all cylinders.”

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U.S. U-16 boys finish French tourney with loss to host

The U.S. U-16 boys national team, coached by Coach Shaun Tsakiris, lost to host France, 2-0, to finish the Val-de-Marne Tournament with one win and two losses.

After opening with a 2-1 over England thanks to a pair of goals from the L.A. Galaxy academy’s Ulysses Llanez, the USA fell, 3-0 to Russia. The win over England marked the third meeting between the teams. In February, they tied, 1-1, and England won, 4-2.

Tsakiris’ team will compete at the IMG Cup Dec. 11-19 in Bradenton, Fla.

Oct. 29 in Plessis-Trévise, France
France 2 USA 0. Goal: Gboho 34, Taoui 58.
France -- Dietsch; Godart, Lesage, Mbe Soh, Giraud; Thuram, Dabo, Gboho; Hassaini (Rivollier, 59), Geubbels (Ressa, 59), Taoui (Semaoun, 70).
USA -- Defreitas-Hansen; Hoffmann (Morel, 36), Blancas, Sepulveda, Hilton (Arriaga, 63); Duke, Vassilev (Benalcazar, 63), Palomino (Stojanovic, 73); Rivas (Conway, 41), De la Fuente, Llanez.

Oct. 27 in Leo Lagrange, France
USA 0 Russia 3. Goals: Sevikyan 9, Kutovoi 57, Kutovoi 68.
USA -- Defreitas-Hansen; Hilton (Hoffmann, 63), Noverr (Blancas, 41), Sepulveda, Morel; Benalcazar (Duke, 41), Palomino, Vassilev; Arriaga (Llanez, 41), Stojanovic (Conway, 63), de la Fuente (Rivas, 72).
Russia -- Eshchenko; Gerchikov, Pelikh, Sharkov, Fedorov; Nikitenkov, Sungatulin; Sevikyan, Usanov, Shkolik (Markitesov, 52); Kutovoi (Savinykh, 80).

Oct. 25 in Villejuif, France
USA 2 England 1. Goals: USA – Ulysses Llanez (pen.) 61, Llanez 82+; Maghoma (pen.) 58.
USA -- Collodi; Hilton, Blancas, Sepulveda, Morel (Hoffman, 58); Vassilev, Arriaga (Palomino, 41), Duke; Rivas, de la Fuente, Llanez.
England --Ashby-Hammond; Aina, Williams, Mola, Appiah, Maghoma, Cottrell (Dixon-Bonner, 62), Matthews (Mumba, 60), Jones, Tulloch, Glatzel.

U.S. U-16 boys national team
GOALKEEPERS (2): Michael Collodi (FC Dallas; Frisco, Texas), Nicolas Defreitas-Hansen (Weston FC; Southwest Ranches, Fla.).
DEFENDERS (9): Nico Benalcazar (NYCFC; Wilton, Conn.), Eduardo Blancas (Real Salt Lake; Napa, Calif.), Jackson Conway (Atlanta United FC; Marietta, Ga.), Cameron Duke (Sporting KC; Olathe, Kan.), John Hilton (Unattached; Long Beach, Calif.), Julian Hinojosa (FC Dallas; Garland, Texas), Ian Hoffmann (Karlsruher SC; Germany), Alexsi Morel (New York City FC; Huntington Station, N.Y.), Leonardo Sepulveda (LA Galaxy; Corona, Calif.).
MIDFIELDERS (7): Luis Arriaga (Real Salt Lake; Santa Rosa, Calif.), Taylor Booth (Real Salt Lake; Eden, Utah), Azriel Gonzalez (Seattle Sounders FC; Renton, Wash.), Ulysses Llanez (LA Galaxy; Lynwood, Calif.), Marcelo Palomino (Houston Dynamo; Houston, Texas), Jose Rivas (Weston FC; Weston, Fla.), Indiana Vassilev (IMG Academy; Savannah, Ga.).
FORWARDS (2): Konrad De la Fuente (FC Barcelona; Barcelona, Spain), Stefan Stojanovic (Sockers FC; Des Plaines, Ill.).

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U.S. U-17 boys head to Jamaica

Coach John Hackworth has named a 22-player U.S. U-17 boys national team squad for a Oct. 30-Nov. 9 training camp in Kingston, Jamaica, where the USA will face Jamaica Nov. 2 and on Nov. 6.

Eighteen of the players are on U.S. Soccer’s 2016 Fall Residency roster. The four who aren't are: Portugal-based goalkeeper Carlos Joaquim Dos Santos, formerly of the Philadelphia Union academy; defender Ethan Bartlow of Washington state's Crossfire Premier; Philadelphia Union defender Rayshaun McGann; and Andrew Carleton, who left Bradenton residency after signing an MLS contract with Atlanta United.

Dos Santos, who was born to a Cape Verdean father and Portuguese mother, played three years with the Union academy before joining Benfica's academy program.

Following the Jamaica trip, the U-17s will prepare for the 2016 Nike International Friendlies in in Lakewood Ranch, Fla. (Nov. 30-Dec. 4), at which the USA faces Portugal, Turkey and Brazil. The Concacaf qualifying tournament for the 2017 U-17 World Cup in India takes place in Panama April 21-May 7.

U.S. U-17 boys national team
GOALKEEPERS (2): Carlos Joaquim Dos Santos (Benfica; Philadelphia, Pa.), Justin Garces (Kendall SC; Miami, Fla.).
DEFENDERS (9): Carlos Asensio (Atlanta United; Roswell, Ga.), Ethan Bartlow (Crossfire Premier; Woodinville, Wash.), Christopher Gloster (New York Red Bulls; Montclair, N.J.), Jaylin Lindsey (Sporting Kansas City; Charlotte, N.C.), Rayshaun McGann (Philadelphia Union; Royal Palm Beach, Fla.), Carlo Ritaccio (BW Gottschee; Westbury, N.Y.), James Sands (New York City FC; Rye, N.Y.) Arturo Vasquez (FC Golden State; Mira Loma, Calif.), Chandler Vaughn (DC United; Woodbridge, Va.).
MIDFIELDERS (5): George Acosta (Weston FC; Hollywood, Fla.), Isaac Angking (New England Revolution; Providence, R.I.), Christopher Durkin (D.C. United; Glen Allen, Va.), Blaine Ferri (Solar Chelsea SC; Southlake, Texas), Adrian Villegas (Portland Timbers; Hood River, Ore.)
FORWARDS (6): Ayomide Akinola (Toronto FC; Brampton, Ont.), Andrew Carleton (Atlanta United; Powder Springs, Ga.), Zyen Jones (Atlanta United; Clarkston, Ga.), Bryan Reynolds Jr. (FC Dallas; Little Elm, Texas), Joshua Sargent (St. Louis Scott Gallagher Missouri; O’Fallen, Mo.), Tonny Temple (IMG Academy; Millville, Pa.).

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Coaching Compensation survey for NSCAA coaches

The National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) and Soccer America have partnered on a research project on compensation for coaches across various levels of the U.S. game, beginning with a 5-minute online survey for NSCAA members. The survey will gather information on coaching and coaching-related activities. The results will help better equip coaches to negotiate salaries and benefits packages. Results of the research will be published on and the NSCAA’s Soccer Journal. Members of the NSCAA, the world’s largest coaches organization, can take the 5-minute survey at the following links:

For College Coaches: College Compensation Survey

For Youth or/and High School Coaches: Youth/High School Compensation Survey

7 comments about "Study reveals new information on heading's impact on the brain".
  1. James Madison, November 2, 2016 at 8:19 p.m.

    I don't know of anyone who heads a ball 15-20 times in a game. Moreover, the report of the study says nothing about the incoming velocity of the balls that were headed. Thus, while interesting, I would be more interested in the results of a study that was in line with real match or training conditions.

  2. Bob Ashpole replied, November 3, 2016 at 12:55 a.m.

    The study says that it replicated "typical heading practice" by finishing a cross (by a ball machine) 20 times in 10 minutes. While this may be a typical finishing practice for forwards, in my experience it is not a typical practice for other players.

  3. Bob Ashpole, November 3, 2016 at 12:42 a.m.

    The linked article stated that the balls speed was 38.7 kph. What surprised me was that there was no control group to compare the data with. I don't understand how the report could draw conclusions without a control group. Still the article is very interesting.

  4. GA Soccer Forum, November 3, 2016 at 12:32 p.m.

    Agree with Bob, I haven't pulled up the article, but you would have to do the same tests on individuals that go through an entire practice and do not head the ball. My guess is after any physical session, players are mentally drained and would expect some sort of decline in memory recall.

    Actually as I'm typing, I pulled up the article and they address it as a limitation and state future work should include a control group..... -- but still shocking it wasn't done.

  5. don Lamb replied, November 5, 2016 at 7:28 p.m.

    Not to mention, where is the data for when players were gently tossed a ball to head back from just a couple of yards away? I have no issues with the heading ban, but this study seems pretty weak.

  6. Mark Headley, November 3, 2016 at 8:38 p.m.

    as a former high school player and LT fan, hard to imagine successful heading in whatever drills, games, results in more head trauma than players' heads colliding w/ one another. does anyone compete hard in soccer yet avoid numerous hammering head collisions?

  7. Bob Ashpole, November 4, 2016 at 4:18 a.m.

    In 50 years I have never had any trauma from knocking heads. I have had serious injuries but not a concussion and not from heading. I used good heading technique and positioned my body well to protect myself. I have had 2 broken arms, a broken ankle, two [ball] impact eye injuries, and a knee injury over the years. Every one of those injuries was caused by a reckless adult recreational player, several were intentional.

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