US Youth Soccer Moving In the Right Direction After Heading Bans
In a pioneering move that should be hailed by parents and players alike, US Soccer is issuing new rules banning heading for children 10 and under and limiting the amount of heading in practice for 11 to 13-year-olds.
Under the new rules – coming into play in the development academies from January 1, 2016 – substitutions will also be changed so a team isn’t penalized if a player suffers a concussion.
The idea is that temporary substitutions will be allowed while a player is checked for a head injury.
The moves, announced on Monday, November 9, are a huge boost to campaigners, among them US women’s World Cup hero Brandi Chastain and Football.com contributor Dr. Joseph Zappala, who warned that young players lives were being put at risk by the refusal by the sports’ global governing bodies to budge on the issue.
Sure, the breakthrough comes as a resolution in a controversial class action lawsuit brought by a group of California parents, but US Soccer deserves credit for leading the way in breaking with a tradition that had more to do with bloody mindedness than common sense.
The sweeping youth soccer initiative is, in the words of the statement, "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; and (d) eliminate heading for children 10 and under and limit heading in practice for children between the ages of 11 and 13.”
The suit, filed by seven sets of parents against FIFA in U.S. District Court in California, named U.S. Soccer, American Youth Soccer Organization and other U.S. youth organisations, charging negligence regarding head injuries, according to a New York Times report.
The plaintiffs in the class action suit included Rachel Mehr, a former youth club soccer player, several parents on behalf of their children in youth soccer leagues and Kira Akka-Seidel, a former player for the University of California, Santa Cruz.
According to the complaint, 46,200 U.S. high school soccer players suffered concussions in 2010, more than from baseball, basketball, softball and wrestling combined. At least 30% of soccer concussions come from heading or attempting to head balls.
Steve Berman, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said in a statement: "We filed this litigation in effort to focus the attention of U.S. Soccer and its youth member organizations on the issue of concussions in youth soccer. With the development of the youth concussion initiative by U.S. Soccer and its youth members, we feel we have accomplished our primary goal and, therefore, do not see any need to continue the pursuit of the litigation.
“We are pleased that we were able to play a role in improving the safety of the sport for soccer-playing children in this country."
U.S. Soccer CEO/Secretary General Dan Flynn of the United States Soccer Federation representing the Federation and the other youth members said: "We are proud to be leaders in the areas of concussion education and management. The development of a player safety initiative was under way 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."
The complete details of the initiative along with a more comprehensive player safety campaign will be announced by U.S. Soccer in the next 30 days.
US Soccer offers more details in this FAQs link:
READ: Frequently asked questions on concussions in youth soccer
See how Football.com contributors have highlighted the dangers of heading in youth soccer: