US Soccer bans heading the ball in football games for kids under the age of 11
The United States Soccer Federation has banned heading the ball in football matches for players under the age of 11, due to concerns about the long-term impact of concussions.
The move, which also restricts the amount of heading for 11-13 year olds, comes in response to a lawsuit brought against the federation – a lawsuit that will now be dismissed as a result of the new rules.
The new regulation applies only to teams that operate under the jurisdiction of US Soccer, which includes all “youth national teams and academies, including Major League Soccer youth club teams.”
Other teams and leagues outside the US Soccer umbrella will be recommended the same rules but under no obligation to adopt them - although many are expected to follow the national body.
“What we’re establishing is creating parameters and guidelines with regards to the amount of exposure [to potential head injuries],” George Chiampas, US Soccer’s chief medical officer, told reporters.
Brought to court by a group of parents and players in California, the lawsuit that sparked the rule change - rather than seek financial compensation, it wanted exactly such a change in approach – claimed that nearly 50,000 high school football players suffered concussions in 2010, either from heading the ball itself, suffering a clash of heads with another player in an aerial challenge, or banging their head on the ground after attempting a header.
That figure was more than players in baseball, basketball, softball and wrestling combined.
Concussion has been a big area of investigation in recent years, with scientists learning more about the causes and impact of such incidents. As football becomes an area of greater research, it is increasingly believed that the damage caused by a series of low impact blows (i.e. repeated headers) can be as bad, if not worse, than one heavy blow that renders a player unconscious.
In 2002, a coroner recorded a verdict of “death by industrial disease” on the former West Bromwich Albion striker Jeff Astle – saying that repeated heading of heavy footballs during his career caused the striker’s death at the age of 59.
It is this cumulative damage that US Soccer are now looking to prevent, although the cost to the development of young players will only be revealed in time.
The rules mean the best young players in the United States will not head the ball regularly until they are 14 or 15 – almost certainly meaning that they will be deficient in a key area of the game compared to their contemporaries around the world.
Of course, if the ball stays on the ground more during matches and training as a result of the regulations, they may become comparatively more proficient at that side of the game - elevating their technical skills to a higher level.
For US Soccer, however, the overriding concern is preserving the long-term health of young footballers - although it remains to be seen if any other countries follow suit.