Eastside FC talks to Aerial Training Program Director and Former Sounders FC standout, Roger Levesque, on the importance of heading in the game of soccer and how to prepare young soccer players to do it properly and effectively
EFC: How long has Aerial Training been in existence?
RL: AERIAL TRAINING is a new soccer training program designed with the goal to prepare young soccer players to safely and effectively engage in aerial challenges and improve purposeful heading. Leveraging ideas and experiences from pro soccer players and coaches, medical experts and athletic trainers, AERIAL was developed and refined over the summer with on-field help from local coaches and teams, including EFC’s Emily Cole and Dan Bubar.
EFC: How did the idea for Aerial Training come about?
RL: The idea for AERIAL stemmed from a project to better understand head injuries in soccer. Research suggests that collisions are the leading cause of head injuries in soccer and that a disproportionate number of those collisions are the result of aerial challenges. AERIAL aims to provide a roadmap for youth soccer coaches to confidently teach heading technique and prepare players for contact.
EFC: What do you hope comes from Aerial Training?
RL: Currently, several teams are participating in AERIAL pilot programs, including David Lozano’s EFC G07 group. Through each of these 12-week pilot programs, our goal is to better understand how the on-field AERIAL curriculum translates into behavior change as well as how various communication strategies (coach/parent email and social media engagement) contribute to the efficacy of the program. Ultimately, we want to build a program that improves safety through performance, as well as engages the soccer community in a dialogue about head health.
EFC: Are there plans to expand this program? Is it primarily located in the Seattle metro area?
RL: Right now, AERIAL pilots are taking place locally, but the program is designed to scale quickly. All resources necessary to run AERIAL are digital and will ultimately live online. You can see the first iteration of the website at www.aerial.training.
EFC: Our EFC coaches, Emily Cole, David Lozano and Dan Bubar are working with Aerial Training for the Eastside FC G07 age group. Is this age group the first year of heading the ball under the new rules? How important is it for young players who are just starting heading to learn how to do it properly and safely? What have you learned from past generations of soccer players who didn't have specific heading training?
RL: [The] G07s are at an age where heading is allowed per U.S. Soccer Guidelines. Through their player health and safety program, Recognize to Recover, U.S. Soccer recommends that players ages 10 and under should not head the ball in training or games and that for players ages 11 to 13, heading as allowed in games but limited in practice to a maximum of 15 to 20 headers per week. AERIAL’s current curriculum was developed specifically to guide players, coaches and teams transitioning from not heading at all to heading the ball in training and game.
EFC: We’ve received emails from parents who have seen the Aerial Training posts on our social media. For parents who see the posts regarding AT, how do they get their players involved in Aerial Training? Are there clinics open to individual players or is it by teams? Are there registration fees?
Right now, the full AERIAL TRAINING program, including on-field curriculum and follow-up engagement, is only available on a trial basis for teams that meet the specific age requirements associated with the transition into heading the soccer ball. We want to learn from these programs to see how best to roll out the program on a broader scale. We are currently not offering clinics, but training videos and additional resources are available for coaches to view at www.aerial.training. When AERIAL is rolled out on a broader scale, we don’t anticipate charging registration fees.
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