Blacksburg community stays ahead of heading dangers



Blacksburg, Va., March 1- Dribbling: New River United coaches focus more on foot skills and passing patterns in order to comply with the new provision. Photo: Delia Maresco


by Delia Maresco–

Virginia Tech is widely known for its research, including its efforts to reduce athletic injuries, such as concussions.

Many Virginia Tech college athletes are part of annual research studies that track blows to the head during play, and all athletes follow the strict protocol set by the VT Sports Medicine Department.

“Over the past ten years, we’ve [Virginia Tech] been one of the front-runners in this kind of research,” says Freddy Purnell, Virginia Tech’s Director of Sports Medicine, “and it’s translated to the youth sports programs as well.”

Purnell believes the Blacksburg community benefits from the university’s research efforts and is more on the forefront of concussion prevention than most. However, new national provisions made by U.S Youth Soccer are affecting how all youth soccer organizations, including New River United, are operating on a daily basis.

The new rule states that “children 10 and under will be barred from heading the ball during any official session – practice or game – while players 11-13 will have heading limited during training sessions.” The rule will cause coaches to change how they design technical drills and set up their practice plans, and it will keep younger kids from heading the ball until age 11.

“This is not the best move,” says Purnell, “I think the best solution would be to teach proper heading techniques and how to read the game at a younger age. I think we’re going to get into a problem where you don’t teach heading until its too late and that’s going to lead to more concussions.”

Within the past few years, there has been an influx of research studies and even a film that has sparked national attention and concern for the issue. However, although attempts to reduce concussions are beneficial, many Blacksburg community members, are not sure the provision is the best solution to the problem.

“I’ve played soccer my whole life and I’ve even had a few close calls with concussions,” says Ashley Meier, a Virginia Tech senior and coach for New River United, “but heading is a part of the game, and it always will be.” Meier can see it both ways, but thinks it’s more important to teach proper heading technique and prepare kids for the game in a realistic and safe way.

The new provision is a step in the right direction in terms of increasing concussion prevention and awareness, but it is still up for debate as to whether or not it is the best solution to the problem.