The United States Soccer Federation, or US Soccer, has announced a new set of rules aimed at preventing youth soccer players aged 10 and under from “heading” the ball, either in games or in practice, and limiting the number of heading opportunities for players aged 11 through 13, MSN is reporting.
In soccer, “heading” — that is, propelling the ball with your head — is an important part of the game. Because players aren’t allowed to touch the ball with their hands, using the head properly is almost as important as using your feet properly, A well-timed “header” — that is, propelling the ball into the goal with your head — always excites the fans.
The problem is that a blow to the head is never a good thing, and repeated blows to the head are even worse. Currently, the NFL is embroiled in a controversy over the effects of repeated concussions and other head injuries on players’ brains, as recent studies have suggested a link between concussions and brain disease later in life. Earlier this month, the Guardian cited a study on U.S. women playing soccer at the college level, which shows that heading in soccer can be just as damaging to a player’s brain as helmet-to-helmet contact in football or the blows suffered by boxers.
“The percentages of 100g hits was effectively the same between women’s college soccer and American Football, which really surprised us. And while American Football players tend to take more hits overall in a given practice session and game, the college soccer players were getting hit every day and so it evened out.”
Children, in particular, are at risk. That’s why, in 2014, a group of youth soccer players and parents filed suit against US Soccer and FIFA (soccer’s international governing body), claiming that neither organization was doing enough to prevent youth injuries from heading. The suit against FIFA was thrown out last year, but the suit against US Soccer was just concluded this week.
The new heading rules, which Yahoo Sports soccer writer Leander Schaerlaeckens notes are not a direct result of the lawsuit, are intended to keep US Soccer ahead of the curve when it comes to preventing head injuries in youth sports.
— Concussion L.F. (@ConcussionLF) November 10, 2015
Under the new rules, heading is completely banned in all under-10 youth leagues under the management of FIFA or US Soccer. For kids participating in 11-13 leagues, heading would be allowed, but there would be a limited number of heading opportunities during practice. During games, a health professional — instead of the coach — would have to determine if a player who suffered a particularly nasty blow to the head would be allowed to return to the game.
Schaerlaeckens praises the new US Soccer rules as a step in the right direction.
“U.S. Soccer deserves praise for being proactive in its attempt to solve an odious issue, taking drastic measures to help end the concussion epidemic in youth sports.”
He also recognizes that preventing American soccer players from heading until later in their career may put them at a competitive disadvantage, but that the goal of keeping youth safe overrides competitive concerns.
“To some, perhaps overlooking the bigger picture, the biggest concern will probably be the effect on the long-term development of the American player if entire generations don’t start heading the ball regularly until age 14… Curbing heading in youth soccer will probably prove controversial. And whatever issues American soccer might face in a decade or so might be blamed on it. But today, given the enormous stakes of a significant health risk to millions of American children, it was the right thing to do.”
Do you think US Soccer was right to ban heading in youth play? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
[Image via Shutterstock/lassedesignen]