Updated: Nov 25, 2020
Football (soccer) is suggesting that there should be a deemphasis on heading the ball.
I tend to agree
Head impacts are potentially dangerous, the prevalence of brain degeneration in older athletes from sports that feature head impact has been a source of concern and research for a few years now.
If you move from soccer into the combat sports, then the research points to the very real dangers which of course is hotly and emotionally debated by coaches and athletes thinking their sport is under attack.
In the USA, the NFL nearly went into a meltdown when this topic was brought up as documented in the excellent dramatisation of events, the film Concussion starring Will Smith as the researcher that discovered CTE and the relationship between head impacts / concussion and brain degeneration.
But, are people going to stop these sports?
I'm a martial arts guy, I've been a martial arts guy my while life.
And I'll not stop (as soon as we have Covid under control, I will be back training Judo)
So what's the way forward?
What we currently think is the impact can potentially be dissipated by the musculature.
We in combat sports know that it's easier to knock out a person if the head is free to move.
A braced head may take more impacts but it doesn't knock out as easily.
A knock out IS a concussion
We also know that if we dip the head forward, tuck the chin, we engage the neck muscles and can take a heavier shot, from any angle than in any other head posture.
An issue I've noticed is the physical state of people starting out in contact sports.
Once upon a time, people worked physically, they'd be physically active most of the time and then they'd train / play contact sports.
They'd have a base level of physical development and physical intelligence going into a sport
This is getting lost.
Across the board we see that there is a higher incidence of injuries in athletes that do specialise early compared to those with multi sport backgrounds
If there's less general physical development going into a sport, then the training for that sport MUST adjust to accommodate for this.
So do we reduce the emphasis on head impacts in youth sports?
Absolutely, we use the time to condition the body for the stresses it's likely to face down the line.
Yes, this means developing muscle mass, including neck and jaw strength.
Traditional martial arts training featured lots of this.
Lots of deep stances for leg strength and flexibility
Lots of hand, knuckle and wrist preparation for punching and joint locks
Lots of neck development through bridging exercises as demoed by Mick here in this video:
And here's a big move that you must approach very gradually but will strengthen the jax, neck and entire posterior chain:
Those sports that have retained these practices do develop seriously tough athletes, who of course get injuries, but tend towards fewer of the chronic conditions
Not every exercise an athlete performs needs to be a sports specific movement.
They can and should be attribute specific.
All coaches, regardless of the sport or activity they coach MUST educate themselves on developing the attributes that go into building a well rounded athlete to create the foundation to build the sport on top of.
Or at the very least, they should refer out to experts in that field, ie the fitness coach.
As the saying goes:
Prior Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance
Do the prep
And maybe we can find a way to keep our beloved combat sports somewhat safe.