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U.S. soccer star Brandi Chastain has changed her mind about kids heading the ball in soccer, saying the practice should be banned for players aged 14 and younger. NewsHour Weekend's William Brangham discusses the issue with the World Cup and Olympic soccer champion.
Most of us got to know Brandi Chastain this way. Her dramatic penalty shot won the 1999 women's World Cup for the U.S. and made her an instant star. She also helped the U.S. win gold, twice at the Olympics.
Chastain now lives in northern California with her husband and 8 year old son, Jaden. But soccer is never far away.
She helps coach Santa Clara University's division one women's soccer team and also her son's youth team.
It's perhaps this connection to younger players that has Chastain on a new mission.
In order to protect young players from the rising number of concussions and head-injuries in soccer, Chastain, who herself used to be a formidable header of the ball, now believes heading should be removed from the game for kids 14 and under.
I talked with her recently in California about this controversial position and how she sees it affecting American soccer.
We don't need to have heading in youth soccer, 14 and younger, for a couple reasons.
The skill of heading is not necessary at that age. One, because we should be teaching the, the basic skills of trapping, passing, moving, spatial awareness, you know, all these things that they need when they're gonna be a little bit older that will help them have a better foundation. So those things are way more important than heading the ball.
Two, as a parent, you know, I'm very interested in my son participating in sports for all the lessons and things that I learned that are so impactful in my life as an adult, that and the thing and the joy that I got out of being on a team, but I want it to be safe.
And I don't think when I, 30-something years ago when I started playing soccer, if not longer than 30 years, that people were talking about, you know, the safety of soccer, and, you know.
Yeah, it wasn't, wasn't a concern. Nobody, everyone thought soccer was safe.
I know just a couple of years ago, you were on the national news being asked this question. And you, at the time, were saying, "I think that it can be taught to kids, and it, it should stay in the game for kids." Now you think differently. I wonder what, what was it in particular that changed your mind?
I, I think it was hearing the, the information that Dr. Cantu was putting out.
The more I started hearing about it, and the more research that has come out, the unfortunate stories that you've heard where there's been either really terrible injuries, or, you know, unfortunate deaths due to some brain injury. And I just thought, you know, I could be an advocate for, you know, our kids being safer.
I think maybe it's the parent in me honestly. Because as a single person before, you know, I got married and had kids, I would, I felt like I could do anything.
I was. I was almost invincible, 'cause I've been hurt a couple times. But I felt that, you know, if I prepared, and I headed the ball properly, that I was safe. And now I think, now I know a little better. And so I think that information needs to be shared.
But I still think the technique, the teaching the technique is important. And I think if we teach the technique properly, we use a beach ball or maybe a nerf ball, so the kids start to recognize the movement before they get to 14, it's not like we're, we're going to void of heading, or the movement, or the awareness or the positioning.
So you're up for, you're okay with the training them with software balls or gentler technique? So that when they do get to be 14, they can move into. It's not so abrupt.
My 13 year-old son, when I talk to him about the idea of taking heading out of the game, he was, he said, "That's gonna ruin the game." What do you do in corner kick?
That completely blows it.
I mean, what do you say to people who think that taking heading out really at any age is like taking the queen off the chessboard, it just changes the game completely?
It, it will change the game slightly, but I think the risk of the heading isn't worth the complaint of it changing the game.
My three kids all play, love the game. And the club they play for, they're concerned about concussions, and they're really worried about the kids' health and safety. But right now there's no talk of getting headers out of our club, or anywhere in our state where we play. If you were me, would you still let your kids play in a league like that, where heading was still gonna go on?
Well, the answer is yes, because my son plays in a league where heading is still going on.
Is that right?
It's not, you know. I think…
Because Brandi Chastain says no heading in youth it hasn't disappeared from the youth game?
It hasn't disappeared yet because I think what has to happen right now to take heading out of the game is that the bylaws of soccer have to change. And that's US Soccer, or that's FIFA.
I want to hopefully get to FIFA, that's my goal, is to get to FIFA, our governing body of all international soccer and say, "We recognize that soccer has some inherent risk, and heading is one of those risks. Can we take it out of youth soccer so that we can preserve maybe a longer career in the game, a lifetime love of the game, a healthy end to a career where they become a fan?
So heading is a valuable part of soccer later when taught correctly, when you have a foundation of a stronger core and bigger muscles, and, you know, awareness of who's around you and how to get your arms out and protect yourself. So the…
So you think it can be done when you're older, you can– it can be done more safely?
I think it can be done more safely. But you know, what I'm hoping is that just this, the starting of this, starts the conversation of why we're taking it out, and how can we make it safer when we do reintroduce it when the kids are older.
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