Healthy Living: Youth soccer pilot program teaches kids how to ‘be in the air’ to reduce risk of concussions

The Women's World Cup has grabbed attention across the globe and sparked interest from kids across the country to take up soccer.  With a potential draw to the game, safety is always a concern of parents.

When we think about injuries on the soccer field, concussions often come to mind.  Experts say most concussions in soccer come from a collision with the ground or another player and not from actually heading the ball.   That's why researchers at The Sports Institute at UW Medicine launched a pilot program called Aerial, to teach kids how to head the ball properly.

"The program is really designed around teaching kids to be in the air, to protect their body in space and to be aware of other players," said Sara Chrisman, M.D., with The Sports Institute at UW Medicine.  "As you're watching the World Cup, I think you'll really see some amazing control of the ball with heading and space and that's why we're trying to get these kids towards both performance and safety."

Dr. Chrisman says the goal of the Aerial program is to prevent collisions by improving heading technique, core strength and awareness of the body in space during aerial maneuvers.  She says most leagues don't introduce heading until kids are 11-years-old, adding there is currently no standardized way to introduce heading safely.

According to UW researchers, females have a higher risk than males when it comes to concussions on the soccer field.  In youth soccer playing for one season, about 5% of females and 2.5% of males will sustain a concussion.  About 30-40% of these concussions will occur during heading, but most (75%) come from contact with another player during a heading attempt, according to Dr. Chrisman.

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