On November 9, the U. S. Soccer Federation (USSF) announced regulations aimed at reducing the amount and severity of head injuries in youth soccer. In order to resolve a pending class-action lawsuit filed against USSF and others concerning head injuries.
The new regulations are as follows: players ten years old and younger are prohibited from heading the ball and players aged eleven through thirteen are limited to heading the ball during practice.
The announcement resolves a legal case from 2014 when a group of parents and players from California filed a class-action lawsuit, charging U.S. Soccer, FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association), and AYSO (American Youth Soccer Organization) with negligence in treating and monitoring head injuries.
These new regulations put in place by the USSF will affect the majority of youth soccer clubs and teams across the nation, and the USSF urges those not under its control to follow as well. The U.S. Soccer press release stated three major details about the initiatives:
improve concussion awareness and education among youth coaches, referees, parents, and players.
implement more uniform concussion management and return-to-play protocols for youth players suspected of having suffered a concussion
modify the substitution rules to insure such rules do not serve as an impediment to the evaluation of players who may have suffered a concussion during games.
The new rules have received praised, but have also seen harsh criticism.
A Step Forward
In an era where sports are becoming more advanced, players are becoming better athletes, and the overall game becomes more physical, there is a greater risk for injury. In 2010, more high school soccer players suffered concussions (50,000) than athletes in wrestling, baseball, basketball, and softball combined. The supporters of the regulations see an opportunity to preserve the health of youth players and create better educational opportunities to teach proper heading techniques and head injury protocol.
Children between the ages ten and twelve are the most susceptible to concussions. Their brains are not fully developed and their necks are not strong enough. In children at these ages and younger, rather than focusing on using their head, supporters see this as an opportunity for
youth players to become more comfortable playing on the ground and managing better ball control with their feet. This could create better quality players with improved foot skills.
Those who have experienced the repercussions of head injuries support the USSF’s decision.
Taylor Twellman, a former U.S. Soccer national team member whose career was cut short due to multiple concussions took to Twitter to show his support.
— Taylor Twellman (@TaylorTwellman) November 9, 2015
A Step Back
Do the new heading regulations really benefit and prevent heading injuries? Many who oppose the new regulations stake their claim that the regulations in reality backfire, and do the opposite of what it was intended to do; the new regulations will hinder the development of youth players and furthermore endanger players.
Without any heading experience until their preteens, players may have poor and incorrect technique when they do begin to head the ball. This could be a setback in development for many players.
“You have to develop technique when you are younger…if you don’t have the technique for it, then you’re not gonna be good with heading the ball when you are 15,” said Will Floyd, sophomore, who has suffered two concussions before.
Some people expressed their frustration on Twitter.
U.S. Soccer banned headers from ages U11 and below… This is another reason why we will NEVER be a dominant country in soccer 😡
— Dylan Calder (@CalderDylan) November 10, 2015
Not only does the lack of experience in heading possibly promote poor development, improper heading techniques could also result in head injuries. “I think it will worsen head injuries because kids don’t have the experience to know how to head the ball. If you head the ball wrong, then you are more likely to get a head injury than if you head it right,” Floyd added.
As players grow older, the pace and physicality of the game increases as well. If the players have poor form, they are putting themselves at risk of head injury.
Good or Bad?
In the end, the new regulations have received praise as well as harsh criticism, as there are a mix of positives and negatives in the new rules. However, with proper education amongst coaches, players, referees, and parents, the new regulations can be as beneficial as it was intended, without impeding development.