Shipley Policy on Heading
In the effort to reduce the number of concussions and minimize the cumulative effects of forces to the head, Shipley has chosen to take a decisive stand on the use of “headers” in soccer. Partnering with the Concussion Legacy Foundation, Dr. Tom Drake, specialist in pediatric neurology, and numerous local health professionals, this policy is instituted in the interests of protecting the developing brains of our students. Going forward, all Middle School athletes who play soccer will be prohibited from using their heads in competitive play. This will be in effect for boys and girls in all games at the Middle School level.
Players will be taught, in a developmental sequence, the techniques needed to head the ball in as safe and effective manner as possible, recognizing that there is no safe level of force to the head. All players will also receive specific physical training and targeted strengthening to increase the protective factors for when heading becomes a necessity. Shipley is also planning to pilot the use of sensory equipment (Triax) to measure the cumulative force of hits to the head for our athletes and to aid in the inaugural research in this important area.
While certain leagues and associations have limited heading for younger players, research on traumatic brain injury clearly indicates that players under the age of 14 should completely avoid intense hits to the head (those that lead to an acute concussion) as well as cumulative “smaller” hits to the head. Since a “safe” level of force to the head has not been established, Shipley is making the decision to avoid the use of heading for its younger players.
Additionally, some leagues encourage or require protective headgear for younger players; however, data on this type of equipment indicates that players can develop a false sense of security when taking hits to the head, leading them to become more aggressive with other players and with headed balls. Headgear provides only minimal protection from direct forehead hits while providing no protection for the rotational acceleration forces that occur when players attempt to direct the ball with their heads, 39 one of the most insidious forces in mild traumatic brain injury. Teaching better technique and targeting improved strength training are currently the best practices in increasing the safety of heading.
Shipley will continue to use the ImPACT test for all Upper School students, not just student athletes, so that a baseline of performance is established prior to any potential brain injury; a practice that has been established for several years. Beginning in 2014-15, all 7th and 8th graders will also receive baseline testing with ImPACT so that informed post-concussion decisions can be made for these students as well. The clear post-concussion policy and return to play/schoolwork progression, established in 2012, will continue to be in effect for all Shipley students.
While we anticipate that there will be some questions and concerns about this policy, we hope it is clear that we value the health and safety of our students, and the fragility of the developing brain, above all else.