Footballers run the risk of incurring mild head injury from a variety of sources, including the intentional use of the head to play the ball, known as heading. This paper presents a preliminary exploratory analysis of data collected to examine whether cumulative incidence of mild head injury, or cumulative heading frequency, are related to neuropsychological functioning in male adolescent footballers. In a quasi-experimental cross-sectional design, neuropsychological test scores of school team footballers were compared with those of similarly aged rugby players and noncontact sport players. Cumulative mild head injury incidence was estimated using self-reports, and cumulative heading was estimated using a combination of observation and self-reports. No participants had sustained a head injury within 3 months of testing. There was no relationship between head injury and neuropsychological performance, and there were no decrements in either the footballers or the rugby players in comparison with the noncontact sport players. Within the footballers, cumulative heading did not predict any of the neuropsychological test scores. These findings indicate the absence of neuropsychological impairment arising due to cumulative mild head injury incidence, or cumulative heading. Although these null findings may be reassuring to players, parents, and football organizers, we stress that they are preliminary. Further data is being collected from the same populations to provide more reliable effect estimates.
Stephens, R., Rutherford, A., Potter, D., & Fernie, G. (2005). Neuropsychological impairment as a consequence of football (soccer) play and football heading: a preliminary analysis and report on school students (13-16 years). Child Neuropsychology, 11(6), 513-526. https://doi.org/10.1080/092970490959629