Safety & Security

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Settlement Means No More Heading in Youth Soccer

18 Nov, 2015

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
However, Sports Strategists Worried a Lack of Aerial Skills May Hamper Generations of Players at Higher Levels

The ‘No Headers/No Brainer’ campaign that was championed by Brandi Chastain last summer has taken another step forward. The U.S. Soccer Federation announced a player safety campaign that eliminates heading for children 10 and under, and limits the amount of heading in practice for children ages of 11 to 13. The settlement affects all levels of play from U-18 down, starting December 2015.

U.S. Soccer has resolved its “Mehr” soccer concussion lawsuit, formally known as Mehr v. Fèdèration Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), whose U.S. defendants were: USSF, United States Youth Soccer Association, American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO), U.S. Club Soccer and the California Youth Soccer Association. As a result of the settlement, sweeping changes are coming to youth soccer.

According to an article in Soccer America Daily, the terms of the settlement are as follows:

“The United States Soccer Federation and the other youth member defendants, with input from counsel for the plaintiffs, have developed a sweeping youth soccer initiative designed to:

“(a) improve concussion awareness and education among youth coaches, referees, parents and players;

“(b) implement more uniform concussion management and return-to-play protocols for youth players suspected of having suffered a concussion;

“(c) 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

“(d) eliminate heading for children 10 and under and limit heading in practice for children between the ages of 11 and 13.”

The regulations will be mandatory for U.S. Soccer youth national teams, as well as MLS youth club teams. Other soccer associations not under U.S. Soccer control are not subject to these regulations, but can use them as guidelines.

Yahoo! News noted that what factored into the settlement were some sobering numbers: According to the lawsuit, children are often taught to head the ball from the age of three. A dedicated youth player might sustain 1,000 headers per year, and a high school player more than 1,800 headers.

Recently, a second Yahoo! Story noted, The Guardian cited a study from Purdue University that found heading of goal kicks and hard shots as damaging as helmet-to-helmet impact in football or the punches landed by boxers. "The percentages of 100g hits was effectively the same between women's college soccer and American Football, which really surprised us," Eric Nauman, director of the Human Injury Research and Regenerative Technologies Laboratory at Purdue, told the English newspaper. "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."

Of course, says U.S. Soccer, the new anti-heading initiatives were something the organization planned to implement anyway.

"We are proud to be leaders in the areas of concussion education and management,” U.S. Soccer CEO/Secretary General Dan Flynn said in a statement. “The development of a player safety initiative was underway before the current lawsuit was filed. In constructing the concussion component, U.S. Soccer sought input from its medical science committee which includes experts in the field of concussion diagnosis and management, as well as from its technical advisors, and worked with its youth members to develop a true consensus-based program. We are pleased that the plaintiffs and their counsel recognize the steps we have taken and look forward to sharing the benefits of the youth concussion initiative with players, coaches, officials and parents."

Reaction to the new rules has been mixed. While parents, pediatricians and others are generally positive, there is a concern about the long-term development of the American player if entire generations don't start heading the ball regularly until age 14. In fact, notes, Yahoo!, “whatever health risks are avoided for the large masses could be questioned when a much smaller but more visible pool of players pushing into the national teams is judged to be deficient in the aerial game.”

It is worth noting that there were similar concerns to recent recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which wanted youth tackling kept to a minimum; in this case, delaying contact until later was regarded by some as a dangerous practice because it lacked teaching appropriate safety measures until athletes were larger and older and therefore, more likely to hurt one another.

Note: U.S. Soccer has released specific documents regarding the settlement and the new rules; they can be found at the following links:

PLAYER SAFETY CAMPAIGN FAQs

U.S. SOCCER ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ABOUT PLAYER SAFETY CAMPAIGN

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