What goes through a player's mind

Football World Cup 2018 Headball: What do headballs do to your head?

World Cup 2014 in Brazil, added time in the final Argentina against Germany. Many viewers and I keep this scene in mind: Schweinsteiger and Aguero jump up to the header duel, the Argentine hits Bayern with his arm on the head. The blood just flows down under Schweinsteiger's right eye. MDR colleague Thomas Kunze recommended this scene to me. He is a sports reporter and usually comments on the Bundesliga as a live reporter - and knows such header duels.

It happens very, very often - on every Bundesliga matchday - that players rattle their heads together. And that goes from the laceration to the drowsiness. Real forces are at work in these highly trained athletes. They are fast, they are trained and when things get uncontrolled, it becomes dangerous too.

Thomas Kunze, MDR sports reporter

I ask someone who is a scientist who deals with the header game: Claus Reinsberger, Professor of Sports Medicine at the University of Paderborn. And he confirms what sports reporter Thomas Kunze says.

The header itself is less likely to trigger a concussion than the duel for the header. That is certainly the more dangerous part in that sense.

Prof. Claus Reinsberger, University of Paderborn

Then the neurologist talks about unplanned headers - for example when a player is shot down at close range: "A head hit like this has a much higher, probably six times higher probability that I will get any symptoms with my brain than if I consciously hit one Head ball, "says the doctor. Because professional players have well-trained neck muscles and they protect against headballs.

But Reinsberger is not interested in the chance hits, but in the planned, real headers. And if they might not be dangerous for the brains of the players in the long run. Although there are already dozens of scientific studies on headballs, from the neurologist's point of view there is still no reliable answer. That is why Reinsberger and colleagues started a new study last autumn.

We examine athletes in a relatively detailed and precise manner. With neurological, neuropsychological and neurophysiological tests and also carry out a relatively complex nuclear spin.

Prof. Claus Reinsberger, University of Paderborn

For the study, especially young players from Hamburger SV are examined. After the tests, the scientists come to the field. Every training session and game is precisely recorded on video. Then with every header you look at: How long was the ball in the air? Where was the impact area? In what context did the header occur? And that in every training session and in every game, adds Reinsberger. "Which is quite complex, but helps to differentiate what headers really do."

After a year and a half, the players come back into the nuclear spin tube. Your memory and attention will be tested. In this way, the researchers want to understand what is going on in the players' brains. "What surprised me personally: That headballs in the brain definitely lead to a reaction, that researchers have already been able to measure. They just don't know exactly what it means," says Rheinsberger:

If you see a change in the brain that you don't understand, start off with the assumption that it's not a good thing. But whether this is not a good thing, or whether it is an adaptation to the stimuli as we always see them in other organs, remains to be found out.

Prof. Claus Reinsberger, University of Paderborn

In two years we will be smarter. Then the study results should be available. After all, in the year of the next European Championship.