Objective: The main objective of this study was to prospectively examine the acute effects of heading in soccer on cognitive function.
Design: This was a prospective cross-over study using a brief neuropsychological battery to assess cognitive function. The tests were performed before and after two separate practice sessions, with athletes serving as their own controls.
Setting: Male and female Division I college athletes.
Participants: Members of the men's and women's varsity collegiate Penn State University soccer teams. Forty-four males and 56 females entered and finished the study. All athletes had a normal physical examination.
Interventions: Before and after both practice sessions, all athletes had a brief battery of neuropsychological tests and a symptom checklist.
Main outcome measures: Neuropsychological tests symptom checklist compared at baseline with those after the practice sessions.
Results: There were no significant differences in pretest scores between groups and no difference on posttest scores between heading and nonheading groups. A significant difference was detected using MANOVA (p = < 0.001) between pre- and posttest scores for measures of attention and concentration, indicating a practice effect. A gender-specific effect in one test measuring attention and concentration was found. There was no difference in symptoms before and after heading as compared with exertional controls.
Conclusions: In this study, soccer players heading the ball does not appear to lead to acute changes in cognitive function as assessed by a brief neuropsychological battery. There are practice effects that occur with repetitive neuropsychological testing and gender differences with certain tests.