Heads up — soccer concussions scrutinized

Properly headed balls not to blame for issues, studies say

Jim Benton
Heritage senior Chase Breslaw, right, heads the ball to his sophomore brother Noah, left, during practice Aug. 13.
Jim Benton
Lars Peterson, right, puts the moves on a Ponderosa teammate Colin Hester on Aug. 14 at practice. Peterson scored seven goals and had 22 total points for the Mustangs last fall.
Ryan Boldrey
From left: Seniors Jason Messer, Brent Hargrave, Pablo Porragas, Kiley O'Connor and junior Armando Acosta are expected to be key players on the pitch for Castle View this fall.
Jim Benton
SkyView's Devin Adams, left, and Derek Helsing warm up prior to the start of practice Aug. 13.
Photo
Posted

Concussions are a growing concern for American football coaches.

But are the other football coaches, known in this country as soccer coaches, concerned about headers causing possible concussions?

The spotlight on concussions has created a debate on whether soccer players who play a ball with their forehead to clear, pass or shoot can cause concussions or long-term brain damage.

“Heading is not responsible for concussions,” insisted Heritage coach Adam Buseck.

According to reports in the Center for Injury Research and Policy more high school soccer players had concussions in 2010 than basketball, baseball, wrestling and softball players combined. The CIRP narrative claimed concussions for the 2011-12 school year represented 34 percent of all injuries in boys soccer and 30 percent in girls soccer.

There have been myriad studies on heading the soccer ball and almost all claim there is a low occurrence of concussions caused by heading the ball. Most soccer concussions, studies say, come when a player is accidentally hit in the head with a ball, or makes contact with a goal post, the ground or another player with their head.

“Heading is not where I've seen any damage in relation to concussions,” said Cherry Creek coach Chleo Curi.

“The damage comes from two heads hitting each other. That's where I see them. And when sometimes a player falls down on this new Astroturf that we are using everywhere and he hits his head on the turf. That's a jolt to the brain and a potential concussion. Then there is somebody who might be elbowed in head.”

Many players have not been taught how to properly head a soccer ball, coaches say. A player should go meet the ball and not let the ball come to him. The ball should be stuck in the center of the forehead where the hairline meets the scalp. The players should attempt to be balanced and the force should be from bending from the waist and snapping the head and neck forward.

“The majority of players do know how to head a ball but there are certainly some that do not,” said Curi. “I'm the varsity coach, so by the time they get to me most of them do. As they come here as freshmen, absolutely not.

“A big part of going up to head a ball is to have your hands out in front to protect yourself. So rarely do two heads crash into each other. If both players use the proper technique which is to put their arms up, not away from their body, just up to protect any player coming any closer than that (that helps prevent collision). There is a proper technique of keeping your chin down close to your chest and arching your back and more or less throwing your eyes at the ball. That's a catchy phrase that I always use. You need to arch your back, have your chin close to your chest and have your arms in in front to protect yourself from other players.”

Ponderosa senior Lars Peterson didn't start learning to head a soccer ball until he was 10-years-old and admits staying balanced to head a ball is tough. He said he doesn't often head a ball during a soccer match.

Retired European players coined the phrase “footballer's migraine.” Potential problems and long-term effects of the impact of headers are still being studied.

Heading is a big part of the game and can't be eliminated. It is a dramatic and challenging skill for soccer players to master. If properly performed, it not inherently dangerous and can be fun.

However, Dr. Tom Schweizer who is the director of the neuroscience research program at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto pointed out in a February news release that not enough is known about the long-range effects on heading a soccer ball.

“The practice of heading, which might occur thousands of times over a player's career, carries unknown risks but may uniquely contribute to cognitive decline or impairment in the short or long-term,” he said.

Soccer teams at a glance:

Aapahoe

Coach: Mark Hampshire

2013 Recap: The Warriors were 3-4 in the Centennial League, 9-6-1 overall and lost to Rock Canyon in the Class 5A State Playoffs round of 16.

Top Returning Players: Michael Chism, D/MF, Sr.; Duncan Malone, D, Sr.; Peter Coates, MF, Sr.; Max Gueller, MF, Jr.

2014 Outlook: The Warriors hope last season's late surge carries over to this campaign. Ten seniors graduated but there were 11 underclass players listed on the 2013 roster.

Castle View

Coach: Sergio Salgado

2013 Recap: The Sabercats were 5-6 in the Continental League and 7-7-1 overall.

Top Returning Players: Kiley O'Conner, D, Sr.; Santo Ruiz, MF, Sr.

2014 Outlook: Castle View had five players on last season's roster who were juniors and will form the nucleus for the 2014 team. The Sabercats will be looking for more scoring punch. The team allowed just 16 goals a year ago but scored only 16 goals.

Chaparral

Coach: Paul Edmondson

2013 Recap: The Wolverines were 0-11 in the Continental League and 1-14 overall.

Top Returning Players: Sammy Cadman, Jr.; Evan Self, Jr.

2014 Outlook: Chaparral will be out to improve its offensive attack this season after being shutout 11 times and scoring only five goals last season.

Cherry Creek

Coach: Chelo Curi

2013 Recap: The Bruins were 5-2 in the Centennial League and 11-4-1 overall. The team lost to Poudre in the Class 5A State playoffs.

Top Returning Players: Karim Zia, F/MF/D, Sr.; Teddy Marchildon, D, Sr.; Andre Rojas, F/MF, Sr.

2014 Outlook: The Bruins, ranked ninth in the CHSAANow.Com preseason rankings, are energetic and will be a tough opponent for opposing teams.

"There are several players in the school that aren't playing because they are only playing for their clubs in the Academy system but we'll still be a good team," said Curi. "We can surprise a lot of people. We're hungry, we're eager and the kids are dying to learn. They have me excited about teaching them. I think we're going to be good, how good I really don't know."

Douglas County

Coach: Brian Sell

2013 Recap: Huskies were 2-8-1 in the Continental League and 4-8-3 overall.

2014 Outlook: There were 15 seniors listed on the Huskies roster last season so County will be a young team that hopes to improve as the season progresses.

Highlands Ranch

Coach: Bud Harper

2013 Recap: The Falcons were 6-4-1 in the Continental League, 10-5-1 overall and lost to Denver East in the state playoffs.

Top Returning Players: Jeff Ingell, D, Jr.; Matt Davenport, F, Sr.; Jackson Goldsberry, D/MF, Sr.; Haydyn Goring, D, Sr.; Troy Steckelberg, MF, Sr. 

2014 Outlook: Harper takes over as head coach after serving the past eight years as an assistant. "I'm very excited," said Harper. "We feel like talent-wise this is the best that we've been. It's a great opportunity for us."

Heritage

Coach: Adam Buseck

2013 Recap: The Eagles finished sixth in the Continental League and lost in the quarterfinals of the Class 5A state playoffs. They were 10-6-2 overall.

Top Returning Players: Noah Breslaw, F, Soph; Chase Breslaw, F, Sr.; Mattia Cominelli, F, Jr.

2014 Outlook: The Eagles return three of their top four scorers and both varsity goalkeepers from last season's team. With the core of players back, Heritage could be a league contender. "We have a strong returning group of attacking players," said Buseck. "If we can prioritize defensive play we have a chance to be very competitive." The Eagles are ranked eighth in the CHSAA.Com preseason 5A soccer poll.

Littleton

Coach: Pedja Vajzovic

2013 Recap: The Lions were 6-3-2 in the Continental League, 9-5-2 overall and lost to Columbine in the Class 5A State playoffs.

Top Returning Players: Sam Korff, MF, Sr.; Hamadi Aliabid, MF, Jr.

2014 Outlook: Korff and Aliabid were the Lions' top goal scorers last season according to the team's partial statistics. Littleton will be joining the Class 4A Jefferson County League.

Legend

Coach: Jordan Ivey

2013 Recap: The Titans were 4-11-0 overall after having to replace 13 seniors. Still, the team was competitive in a rebuilding year.

Top Returning Players: Keun Chang, F, Sr.; Eric Peter, MF, Soph.; Chace Trevino, MF, Soph.; Caleb Vik, D, Jr.; Dana Smith, MF, Jr.; Brian Waite, D, Jr.

2014 Outlook: The Titans return a strong core of players and many played on state championship clubs team during the summer. "The development throughout the year should help us be in the hunt for a league championship," said Ivey. "The boys have put a lot of work in over the summer and we are very excited about the upcoming season."

Lutheran

Coach: Daniel Vanderhyde

2013 Recap: The Lions took third in the TCA tournament and made competitive stands against each of the top Metro League teams. Lutheran was 5-9-1 overall.

Top Returning Players: Stas Kjergaard, F, Sr.; Joe Gates, MF, Soph.; Austin Trefts, D, Sr.

2014 Outlook: With a bevy of young talent, the Lions are looking to qualify for the state playoffs. Freshman keeper Brett Rodgers has great potential. "This year's team is characterized by hard work and a commitment to raising the bar," said Vanderhyde.

Mountain Vista

Coach: Theresa Echtermeyer

2013 Recap: The Golden Eagles were 6-3-2 in the Continental League and 9-6-2 overall. They lost to Heritage in a second round of the Class 5A State playoffs.

Top Returning Players: Louie Sawaged, D, Sr.; Brent Lackey, MF, Jr.

2014 Outlook: It's a good bet that Vista will be competitive again. The Golden Eagles have posted winning seasons over the past five years.

Ponderosa

Coach: Jim Engels

2013 Recap: The Mustangs finished second in the Class 5A Continental League with an 8-2-1 record. Ponderosa was 14-4-1 overall and lost to Air Academy in the Class 4A State semifinals.

Top Returning Players: Lars Peterson, MF, Sr.; David Patterson, F, Sr.; Ty Robbins, D, Sr.; Jack Warburton, MF, Sr.; Eric Eyre, G, Sr.; Riley Wambach, D, Jr.

2014 Outlook: The Mustangs have a solid core of returning players plus some talented youth. "I didn't think we would be as good but I've got some real good young talent," said Engels. "We will be good again like last year but it is probably going to take a little more time. Maybe like midway through the season just because we are a lot younger."

Rock Canyon

Coach: Matt Sassali

2013 Recap: The Jaguars won the Continental League with a 9-0-2 record and went 16-1-2 overall. The only loss was a 1-0 overtime setback to Pine Creek in the Class 5A State championship match.

Top Returning Players: Oliver Larsson, Sr.; Dylan Tartz, Sr.; Andrew Greiner, Sr.

2014 Outlook: Sassali, who has been an assistant at Rock Canyon, takes over for Sean Henning as head coach and will have to replace 10 seniors off last season's team. Larsson was sixth in league scoring statistics with 20 points.

SkyView Academy

Coach: Miles Martin

2013 Recap: The Hawks played a junior varsity schedule and went 5-9 for the season.

Top Returning Players: Derek Helsing, F, Sr.; Kaleb Davis, F, Sr.

2014 Outlook: Joining the Class 3A Metro League presents a challenge but the Lions feel they can be competitive. "It will be nice to play at that level," said Martin. "If you want to be the best, you have to play the best. It'll be fun. Starting a program, any kind of program in any sport, takes some time. We are on our way doing that right now starting this year on a varsity level in a great league."

ThunderRidge

Coach: Chris Smith

2013 Recap: The Grizzlies were 3-8-0 in the Continental League and 4-11-0 overall.

Top Returning Players: Erick Meza, F, Sr.; Kyle Henry, F, Jr.

2014 Outlook: Meza was the team's leading scorer in 2013 and ThunderRidge hopes to end a two-year skid with a winning season in 2014.

Valor Christian

Coach: Brian Schultz

2013 Recap: The Eagles set three program records with 11 wins, eight shutouts and by reaching the second round of the Class 4A State playoffs for the first time. Valor was the only 4A school to beat state champion Cheyenne Mountain during the regular season.

Top Returning Players: Robo Lanz, MF, Soph.; Brendan Clark, MF, Jr.; Hunter Peery, D, Jr.; Ian Thomas, D, Jr.; Josh Floyde, MF, Sr.; Brennan Veen, GK, Sr.

2014 Outlook: Valor has graduated 23 seniors over the past two seasons and this fall young players will have to step up. Veen, Floyde, Nick Titterton and Ian Crawford are the seniors on the team. Crawford anchors a back line that returns three of four starters. The Eagles' pressure defense is a catalyst for the team's high-tempo, possession-oriented attack.

"In the attack, look for Clark's skill and pace to join forces with speedsters Lanz and Eric Jungjohann to produce a high octane assault," said Schultz. "Valor will look to get attacking midfielders Buddy Nelson, Ryan Turner and JJ Jungjohann forward frequently into attacking positions around the 18."

Note: All above information in the team capsules was gleaned from responses to a survey that was sent to all south metro area schools