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Heading for Success

How to safely execute one of soccer’s most exciting techniques.


Heading is a tool in soccer used to control or redirect the flight of the ball. While heading is one of the game’s flashier moves, it is also the riskiest part of soccer, sometimes leading to head injuries. Most of these injuries are not actually due to head-ball contact, but to athlete-to-athlete contact during heading. The doctors at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Sports Medicine Program in the Children’s Orthopaedic Center recommend some simple safety measures to protect young soccer players.


New rules

CHLA-Imagine-2018-Heading-Icon-Whistle-01.pngThe U.S. Soccer Federation has mandated new restrictions on heading:

  • Heading is NOT permitted during ANY practices or games for athletes 10 or younger.
  • Heading is LIMITED during training sessions and NOT permitted during games for athletes 11-13 years old.
  • For athletes ages 14 and older, heading can be performed while focusing on correct technique.
Does soccer headgear help?

CHLA-Imagine-2018-Heading-Icon-Face-01.pngHeadgear for soccer is an impact-absorbing foam layer that may decrease head-to-hardsurface impacts. Some studies demonstrate the possibility of reduced head impacts. However, headgear may provide a false sense of security and promote more aggressive play, or make players more of a target for others. Additionally, headgear increases head mass, which can actually increase propensity for concussion. Use headgear in soccer with caution.

Soccer is a great way to stay active, learn important life skills and begin a lifelong tradition of good health. Setting up young athletes with good habits from the very beginning will give them the tools they need to succeed.

Ways to stay safe
  • CHLA-Imagine-2018-Heading-Icon-Ball-Goal-01.pngHelp players strengthen their heading muscles. Begin heading practice with a lightweight, spherical object like a balloon, and work up from there in this order:
    1. Balloon
    2. Sponge (NERF-type) ball
    3. Play ball (the soft, air-filled balls sold from big bins in grocery, drug and toy stores)
    4. Volleyball
    5. Partially deflated soccer ball
    6. Properly inflated, appropriately sized soccer ball
  • Do not force young athletes to head the ball, and avoid excess heading training in practices.
  • Teach good heading technique:
    • Eyes open
    • Move toward the ball
    • Bend at the waist, instead of the neck
    • Use the legs to help launch the body forward and maintain a solid foundation on the ground
  • Choose the right ball:
    • Look for Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA)-certified balls to ensure optimal quality.
    • Avoid overinflated balls. During practice consider decreasing air pressure in the ball to minimize head impacts.
    • Stitched is better than thermal molded.
    • Correct size is important! Appropriate ball size is determined by age. CHLA-Imagine-2016-Butterfly-Icon.png