Brandi Chastain: Leave Heading To Grown-Ups

Download Audio
Brandi Chastain, who played with the U.S. National Team from 1988 to 2004, says players under 14 should not head the ball. (Tom Hauck /Getty Images)
Brandi Chastain, who played with the U.S. National Team from 1988 to 2004, says players under 14 should not head the ball. (Tom Hauck /Getty Images)

Flying saves and sliding tackles are the stuff of office chatter during this year's World Cup. They're also probably inspiring a few reenactments on this country's playgrounds. But there's one soccer move one World Cup star says kids shouldn't try at home. Brandi Chastain won two women's World Cups with the U.S. team, and she joined Karen Given to explain.

KG: Brandi, what's the move you'd rather children under 14 not try?

[sidebar title="The 2014 World Cup" width="330" align="right"] Click here for Only A Game's complete 2014 World Cup coverage. [/sidebar]BC: Well, having grown up in soccer and having done a lot of heading in my career, I'm now working with the Institute of Sports Law and Ethics at Santa Clara University and the Sports Legacy Institute in Boston, and I've come to realize that heading the ball as a youngster is not really something that we should encourage.

The repetitiveness of heading can potentially cause some injury. Heading is something that an older, more mature player can physically handle and doesn't need to be taught when our kids are under 14.

KG: For parents whose kids play recreationally this will probably be an easy sell. But what about parents of very talented soccer players. Would those athletes be put at a disadvantage by not learning to head the ball at the same time as their peers?

BC: I think the question is really valid, and I think there will be some parents out there that say, 'My kid will get behind.' But what I'm saying is we take out heading and we teach more skills with our feet. The problem is, in working with Dr. Bob Cantu at SLI, the ratio of the velocity of the ball to the strength in young peoples' necks, it's hard  for them to protect themselves.

And if we take that variable out and we give it to them when they're ready to be more dynamic and more aggressive, the better for everybody.

KG: Years ago I interviewed your former national team teammate Cindy Parlow Cone about her decision to retire after suffering post-concussion syndrome. Is Cindy's story a common one in your sport?

BC: You know, I'm not so sure how you would define common, but unfortunately I've heard more and more stories like Cindy's. And Dr. Bob Cantu has said himself he would rather not have to retire another young athlete from any sport due to concussion. So our jobs are to see what's coming and help our kids navigate their lives in a safe and healthy way.

The reason why I got involved, I have a young son — he's 8 years old, he's starting to play soccer, I coach his team. And for me as a soccer lover and soccer fan I also would love to be able to impact the game in a positive way and leave it better for my kids, leave it better for future generations going forward.

KG: I can't have you on the phone and not ask one more question. The World Cup is getting a lot of attention in the U.S. this time around. Do you expect that momentum to carry us into the Women's World Cup next summer?
[sidebar title="Women's Soccer Coverage" width="330" align="right"] Check out more women's soccer coverage from Only A Game here. [/sidebar]BC: Oh, I'm knocking on wood, crossing my fingers and my toes and my eyes that yes, that it will. I think soccer in this country has developed so much since, even since 1999, which is not that long ago, when we last won the World Cup.
I just feel that these are generations now, since '99, that are growing up knowing that soccer is an American sport. It's not taking the place of any other sports. It's just being added to our sports landscape. Obviously with the tens of thousands of people who went to local stadiums, community plazas, that were cheering while watching on the big screen together with their faces painted. I mean, they were thousands of miles away from Brazil and yet they were loving it. I really think that it will carry over next year, and we've got a great team that's going to be taking us to the Women's World Cup, so it's very exciting.

This segment aired on July 5, 2014.


More from Only A Game

Listen Live