Logo Image
College of Health Sciences Kinesiology and Applied Physiology Professor Thomas Kaminski is serving as the sole U.S. representative on the FIFA Heading Expert Group. The influential group drives soccer policy for the world.
College of Health Sciences Kinesiology and Applied Physiology Professor Thomas Kaminski is serving as the sole U.S. representative on the FIFA Heading Expert Group. The influential group drives soccer policy for the world.

UD on the world soccer stage

Photos by Ashley Barnas Larrimore

College of Health Sciences professor serving as sole US representative on FIFA Heading Expert Group

Thomas Kaminski has studied heading in soccer and concussion risk for nearly three decades. The professor of kinesiology and applied physiology at the University of Delaware College of Health Sciences is among the leading experts in the nation on the subject. He’s published nearly 50 research articles on heading and concussion risk and spoken at countless conferences, including Manchester United’s annual sports medicine conference. 

This isn’t his first time on the global stage, but now Kaminski has earned a semi-permanent spot there. Kaminski has been appointed as the sole United States representative to the FIFA Heading Expert Group, a subset of the FIFA Medical, putting UD on the world soccer stage. 

“It’s an honor,” Kaminski said. “I’ve attended several World Congress on Science and Soccer meetings and worked with U.S. soccer coaches and U.S. Soccer, so over the last 30 years, my name has gotten noticed.” 

The influential committee, which meets quarterly, is charged with sharing evidence-based knowledge of the current state of soccer and soccer heading from the highest level of national team players down to youth soccer players. 

“We need to get a firm grasp on head impacts associated with various levels of play in soccer,” Kaminski said. “Intuitively, we think, and the data supports this, that headers become more prevalent in play at higher levels as players mature. But we must learn more about the long-term or downstream effects of heading in soccer, especially in players with long careers.” 

The group is also tasked with identifying gaps in knowledge and identifying areas for further research. 

“For example, we need more research on women and youth athletes to drive that conversation,” Kaminski said. “My research has shown women are at greater risk for injury when heading the ball in soccer in part due to neck strength and control.”

However, heading in youth soccer globally is also an area of the committee’s concern, where Kaminski hopes to move the needle and make a statement. In the U.S., kids aged 11 and older can head the ball. In England, heading starts at age 12. Thus, in Spain, their tactical style of play typically involves the soccer ball in the air far more frequently during play than in the U.S. 

“Let’s face it, 8- to 10-year-olds don’t need to head the ball,” Kaminski said. “The U.S. policy that permits heading in play at age 11 isn’t based on strong evidence, but it has created a starting point, and perhaps that age will nudge higher as more evidence is accumulated.” 

The risks of heading in children are severe due to a lack of neck strength and muscle coordination. One significant and traumatic blow could dramatically affect a child’s developing brain and musculoskeletal system.

Kaminski recently secured a $40,000 grant from U.S. Soccer to validate his “Get aHEAD Safely in Soccer” online diploma program developed in cooperation with the United Soccer Coaches Association. The study, which will kick off in August, will use mouthpiece sensors to monitor head impacts in youth soccer players in Delaware.

“The biggest concern we have with youth players is not so much concussions from heading the ball, but concussions from errant shots that hit the head when the athlete isn’t expecting it,” explained Kaminski. “They could be going up to head the ball and come into contact with another player – head-to-head, elbow-to-head, or head-to-ground – and those types of concussions can be devastating as well. We must teach youth players the proper technique to help mitigate these types of concussion mechanisms.”

Kaminski stressed that proper medical treatment is also crucial for players of all ages. 

“They must be evaluated by a medical professional who understands sport-related concussions and the safe timeline for return to play,” he said. “Once they return to play after concussion, they’re more prone and at a greater risk for additional concussions.” 

Kaminski is proud to be part of this important work that could impact strategic play in many countries. 

“To share my knowledge and expertise and be a part of FIFA and FIFA Medical, which has made this a priority, is a big deal,” he said. “FIFA will make a recommendation based on the work of our committee as we prepare a set of guidelines that other countries can use. We’re driving policy for the world.”

More Athletics Stories

See More Stories

Contact Us

Have a UDaily story idea?

Contact us at ocm@udel.edu

Members of the press

Contact us at 302-831-NEWS or visit the Media Relations website