Will Americans succeed in outlawing kids’ soccer, as you know it?

World Cup winning striker Brandi Chastain has a new goal in mind: Saving your kid from the dangers of soccer.

Chastain, once the face of Women’s Soccer, is stripping back the layers of ignorance that apparently define the relationship between kids playing football and brain injuries.*

So, what type of reception is Chastain’s campaign likely to receive on European shores?

Venerated Sunday Times sports journalist Hugh McIlvanney once predicted that Americans’ soccer innovations represented nothing less than an encroaching form of cultural vandalism. McIlvanney surely captured something of the broader European disposition towards American inspired soccer reforms – and he was likely thinking only of the US men’s game. So, is it a case then of, ‘good luck with that, Brandi‘?

Perhaps. But Chastain is a convert and, to paraphrase Bertrand Russell, it’s one thing for a person to assert the power of his or her argument on its merits. It’s quite another, however, to build one’s case by revealing a personal history of fealty to the opposition’s team.

As recently as 2012, Chastain was making the case – based on zero medical evidence – that any risks could be avoided simply by building kids’ strength and technique.

So what changed her mind?

Chastain claims that the published findings of Dr. Robert Cantu – now her colleague at a new public health lobby group, PASS (Parents and Pros for Safer Soccer) campaign – persuaded her that the dangers to kids, including her own, were real. By recruiting medical heavies like Cantu to help champion her cause Chastain has started to win national media coverage.

Dr. Robert Cantu, an expert in the study of athletes’ brain, told the New York Times, “If we were to take a pillow and slam it as hard as we could against a child’s head, again and again, we would be charged with child abuse. But that’s exactly what it’s like when a player is hit in the head with a ball from pretty close.

Will Dr. Cantu change your mind too?

I’ve a mountain of biases to work through on this one. For one thing, my da used to call those blessed with a little more brawn than brains, “head-the-balls”.

*To give a clearer picture of what we’re talking about here, I’ve included four randomly selected examples of the heading technique.

1. Victor Wanyama vs. Barcelona

2. Chris Commons vs. St. Mirren

3. Henrik Larsson vs. Bulgaria

4. John Aldridge vs. Mexico

  • John Gorman

    Maybe someone should show her a video of a rugby match just to put things into perspective

  • Not a whole lot of head on collisions in rugby….

  • Croiteir

    People did get punch drunk in the era of the heavy leather ball but I think that this is over the top (geddit?)

  • Brian O’Neill

    To be fair there is a huge difference between a man heading a ball and a small boy.

    Likewise it is not great for woman to be heading a heavy ball either. There is an easy solution. A Danish coach has invented a lighter ball for use in female and children’s soccer.

    As for Americans tweaking the rules of soccer. In the excellent Once in a lifetime documentary about soccer in America many of the European players said they preferred the American system which was more goal orientated and had a faster pace.

    Here is the trailer:

    And the whole documentary is on youtube, well worth a watch:

    In my view anything that makes a sport more accessible to people has to be a good thing.

  • kensei

    Heading used to be a relatively insignificant part of the gane due to the weight of the ball – that’s probably where the idea of a “header” comes from.

    Not seen much evidence that repeated heading of the ball does much damage, and you’d really expect it by now. It’s not like rugby or NFL where players are getting much bigger at an alarming rate, combined with an increase in contact meaning the dangers are increasing. Balls have been getting lighter for years.

    That said, repeatedly and endlessly practicising headers with young kids is likely a bad idea. Some regulations and sense should sort it.

  • The Willesden Herald

    A lighter ball for kids’ games sounds very sensible.

  • Practically_Family

    You sure?

  • kalista63

    When I was a kid, we used to play with Captain’s balls and prior to that, the lighter Wembley ones. The worst thing they did was make an awful, uniques noise when they hit you in the face.

  • kalista63

    As someone who worked in both the neurology and spinal injury, rugby threw us more patients than any other sport by a long way. Statistically, equestrian sports cause more injuries but I only ever encountered patients with related injuries. Injuries have included brain stem damage, resulting in locked in syndrome and upper cervical complete lesion, resulting in quadriplegia.

    One thing I did learn is that the culture of rugby has no time for those who complain spiking/spearing which is shocking.

  • Practically_Family

    “One thing I did learn is that the culture of rugby has no time for those who complain spiking/spearing which is shocking.”

    You’d probably notice a change in that. Just in the past few years.