A Bryn Mawr school is taking dramatic steps to protect its student athletes. The Shipley School has become one of the first in the nation to discourage middle-school students from heading balls in soccer games.
Mark Duncan, Shipley's director of athletics, said the school decided to put the soccer policy in place after evidence piled up showing that heading may lead to concussions.
"We are teaching them how to head the ball properly in middle school. We are teaching them in drills, we're teaching them in practice. We're going to do neck-strengthening drills," Duncan said. "But they're going to be with lighter-weight balls because we don't want to cause any injuries in practice.
"And then in games -- that's where we're going to tell the kids not to head the ball."
The school's older students who play contact sports are equipped with sensors to track what happens to student athletes, particularly with significant impacts to the head. He said information from the sensors will help trainers assess any possible injuries
But when it comes to soccer and kids around the age of 12, Duncan said there are better ways to gain control of the ball.
"There's other things you can do. I played soccer, I played contact sports my whole life. You don't have to head the ball every time it comes to you," he said. "You can choose to or you can do other things that are actually better to control the ball with."
So reduced heading could actually result in higher quality youth soccer.
Duncan said the school is looking at partnering with the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, the University of Delaware and Sports Legacy Institute, a nonprofit organization, to try to evaluate the sensor data over long periods of time.
That could include looking at injury rates and the number of hits sustained by athletes who play several sports, Duncan said.