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Pennsylvania school bans heading in soccer over concussion concerns

Concussion expert Chris Nowinski raises awareness about the subject at Bryn Mawr (Pa.) Shipley School in September. (Twitter)
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Concussion expert Chris Nowinski raises awareness about the subject at Bryn Mawr (Pa.) Shipley School in September. (Twitter)

As President Barack Obama held a summit on the dangers of concussions, particularly in youth sports, a Pennsylvania school made the momentous decision to ban heading by its young soccer players.

In coordination with leading experts in the field, Bryn Mawr (Pa.) Shipley School administrators made the decision to outlaw a practice that has long been a staple of the most popular sport in the world, citing an increased amount of evidence that shows repeated heading of a soccer ball can cause lasting effects.

Working alongside former WWE champion Chris Nowinski and Dr. Robert Cantu, the co-founders of Boston's Sports Legacy Institute, Shipley head of school Steve Piltch and athletic director Marc Duncan crafted a thoughtful announcement for the school's website.

We believe we can make significant progress by prohibiting the heading of soccer balls by Middle School students. Today’s data strongly indicate that head hits for Middle Schoolers have much more impact than once believed and that too often these players have not learned to head the ball correctly, that their necks, shoulders, and backs are not well enough developed to do the task properly, and that recurring use of heading increases the incidence of short term and long term problems. And, even for those who do know how to head the ball, the prospect of head injuries is increased by force and physical contact that often occurs when the players go up in the air and compete to head a ball.

According to The Washington Post, the combined number of concussions in boys' and girls' soccer trailed only football among high school sports. While youth soccer organizations like Soccer Shots have also banned the practice, Shipley's "no heading" policy is a rarity at the middle school level. Athletes in the program will no longer be able to head the ball in practice and will also be discouraged to do so in games.

After consulting with Nowinski, whose Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University houses the brains of many deceased athletes for examination, the Shipley administration found the decision to ban heading a rather simple one, especially since children under 14 are most effected.

“We thought, where is the information that’s telling us this is safe for kids to do?” Duncan told The Washington Post. “Why wouldn’t we do this?’ There’s no way you can package it that it’s all right to do this.”

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