“Heading Towards a Solution”: Is Futsal the Perfect Training Alternative for Soccer to Reduce Heading Frequency?

Yiannaki, Christopher orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-6771-0398 and Rhodes, David orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-4224-1959 (2022) “Heading Towards a Solution”: Is Futsal the Perfect Training Alternative for Soccer to Reduce Heading Frequency? Journal of Elite Sport Performance, 2 (1). ISSN 2635-2885

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Official URL: https://doi.org/10.54080/GVMU9746


Soccer is the most popular sport in the world, with ~260 million participants. Recently the impact of heading in soccer has been subject to increased scrutiny as governing bodies seek to protect the welfare of participants. Concern has arisen due to the reported neurocognitive deficits potentially emanating directly from soccer participation and specifically the heading action. Acute concussions are more easily diagnosed compared to the very subtle symptoms some researchers associate with frequent heading. The more elusive influence of repeated sub-concussive impacts from purposefully heading the ball has become a debate however. Overall, research has not definitively concluded this discussion, made recommendations for protocol modifications, or provided clear justification to ban heading. Despite this, governing bodies have begun to make strategic policy changes to mitigate any possible negative side-effects, i.e., FA Premier League heading guidelines. Governing body changes are most notable in youth soccer, with US soccer banning heading altogether for the youngest players.

To our knowledge, the sport of futsal has not yet been considered as an alternative for training or match-play until research provides clarity. With naturally low frequencies of heading during match-play (~8 per-game per-team) compared to soccer (~55.6 per-game per-team) and constraints which reduce overly aggressive physical contact, futsal represents a possible alternative. Meanwhile, evidence suggests futsal is advantageous to soccer player development due to its constraints encouraging skills that successfully transfer to soccer. Therefore, we advocate futsal as a positive training/match-play alternative for soccer which we believe governing bodies should consider.

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