The debate over "heading" (striking the soccer ball with one's forehead in order to redirect the ball) in youth soccer is sure to be a heated one for years to come. However, this much is known: Concussions usually happen from collisions with other players, not from the heading the ball.
That said, the best way to prevent injury from heading is simply knowing how to perform the skill correctly.
Dan Metcalfe, Nike Youth Soccer Coach of the Year and a USSF licensed coach, explains the proper technique: "A simple way to make sure the correct 'contact' happens is to look at the line of the eyebrows and then move the point of contact one finger width higher than the eyebrows in the middle of the head. This is the hardest part of the head and also allows the player to keep their eyes on the ball as it approaches them. Try to head the ball with the mouth shut."
He recommends that young players practice heading by throwing the ball in the air, "let it bounce on the ground once, and then try to head the ball forward, not up again. The young players get excited because they can throw the ball high and it looks really impressive, but the grass takes a lot of the power out of the ball, and they are heading the ball from a much lower height. This drill also develops good judgment of a ball off of the bounce, and confidence that the ball will not hurt them as they learn the skill."
He stresses that players should keep their eyes open at all times, and focus on moving their heads towards the ball laterally, not up-and-down. With proper awareness, technique and smart decisions, young players can avoid injury.
If you and your child's coach are okay with heading, you can buy a product that will help protect your child. Full90 Sports Performance Head Guards make foam-filled headbands, which are about 1 1/2 inches wide, weigh 1.4 ounces and cost $25-$30. These headbands are meant to protect serious players who are more susceptible to head-on collisions, but they may also help kids whose skills have not fully developed.