The art of headers in youth soccer has long been a contentious topic in the world of kids soccer. Whether you are part of a soccer academy, a soccer club, or a parent of a boys and girls soccer enthusiast, understanding the implications of this practice is vital. This enlightening discourse aims to shed light on why headers are sometimes banned in youth soccer in some countries.

The Nature of Headers in Soccer

Soccer is a game that involves making strategic plays using nearly every part of the body. One such maneuver is the header, a technique where a player hits the ball using their head. It lends a unique dynamic to the sport, allowing players to control the ball in otherwise tricky situations.

However, the practice of heading has stirred controversy, particularly concerning its potential long-term effects on young players. Numerous studies have attempted to decipher the physiological impacts of repeated headers in youth soccer.

The Controversy Around Headers

The Dangers of Heading

In the early 2000s, concerns began to mount over the potential risks associated with heading in soccer. Medical professionals and researchers started to draw connections between repeated headers and various neurological conditions. The force exerted on the brain during a header, especially if done incorrectly, could lead to concussions or more severe brain injuries.

The Response from Soccer Authorities

In response to these concerns, U.S. Soccer introduced a Concussion Initiative in 2016. The initiative set forth guidelines restricting the practice of headers in youth soccer. These rules primarily affected players in U11 programs and younger, prohibiting them from engaging in headers either in practice or in games.

For players in U12 and U13 programs, the guidelines permitted limited heading in practice, with strict restrictions on the duration and frequency of training. However, there were no header restrictions during games.

The Impact on Youth Soccer

These new requirements meant a significant shift in how kids soccer was conducted. The prohibition of headers in youth soccer led to a reevaluation of training methods and game strategies in soccer academies and soccer clubs nationwide.

The Effects on Gameplay

The restriction on headers altered the dynamics of the game. With players unable to use their heads to control the ball, new strategies had to be developed. Coaches were compelled to emphasize footwork and other techniques over headers in their training regimes.

The Role of Referees

Referees were tasked with enforcing these new rules during games. They were instructed to award an indirect free kick to the opposing team if a player deliberately headed the ball. This rule applied irrespective of the age of the player.

The Ongoing Debate

Despite the implementation of these guidelines, the debate surrounding headers in youth soccer persists. Some believe that the restrictions are too severe and that headers are a fundamental aspect of the game that should not be eliminated. Others argue that the health and safety of young players should be the primary concern.

The Case for Headers

Proponents of headers argue that, when done correctly, they are a safe and essential part of the game. They believe that with proper training and technique, the risks associated with headers can be mitigated.

The Case Against Headers

On the other hand, critics argue that the risks associated with headers are too high, especially for young, developing brains. They contend that even with proper technique, the force exerted on the brain during a header can still lead to concussions or other forms of brain injury.

Recent Research

Recent studies have sought to provide a more nuanced view of the situation. One such study conducted by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) found that a limited number of repeated headers equivalent to a throw-in did not cause immediate neurological problems in teenagers.

The study, supported by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, suggested that a small number of headers in a given session didn’t pose an immediate risk to properly trained youth athletes. However, the research also emphasized that there could still be long-term consequences for repeated headers over the course of a player’s soccer career.

Header rules in Canada and British Columbia

In British Columbia, Canada, the rules and regulations surrounding headers in youth soccer are primarily guided by the policies of local soccer clubs, academies and associations, under the overarching guidelines of BC Soccer. While specific policies about headers in youth soccer were not explicitly detailed in those guideline, youth soccer organizations typically follow guidelines that prioritize player safety.

For example, the Prince George Soccer Association has updated its Constitution and Bylaws with guidance from BC Soccer, though specific details regarding policies on headers were not highlighted. Similarly, the Aldergrove Youth Soccer Club, like many others, adheres to various policies and guidelines that are aimed at ensuring the safety and well-being of young players. These include general safety policies, codes of conduct for players and guardians, and a comprehensive set of guidelines provided by BC Soccer.

BC Soccer’s policies often include measures related to player safety, which could encompass rules regarding headers in youth soccer. These measures are generally designed to protect young athletes from potential injuries, including those that could result from heading the ball.

Moving Forward

The ongoing debate around headers in youth soccer underscores the need for continued research and thoughtful discussion.

The Role of Training

Training plays a crucial role in ensuring the safety of young players. Coaches must be well-versed in proper heading techniques and should ensure their players are physically and technically ready before introducing headers into their practice sessions.

Policy Adjustments

Soccer authorities must continue to evaluate and adjust their policies as more research becomes available. This will ensure that the guidelines reflect the most current understanding of the risks and benefits associated with headers in youth soccer.

Parental Involvement

Parents play a crucial role in this conversation. They should be informed about the potential risks and benefits of headers in youth soccer. This will enable them to make informed decisions about their child’s participation in the sport.


The practice of headers in youth soccer is complex. It requires a balance between preserving the integrity of the game and ensuring the safety of its young players. As research progresses and our understanding of the impacts of headers evolves, so too must our approach to this element of the beautiful game.