No more heading: US Soccer unveils new concussion protocol for youth soccer

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Following 15 months of litigation, U.S. Soccer announced on Monday a brand new series of initiatives designed to reduce the number of concussions suffered by youth soccer players, including the limitation and/or outright banning of heading the ball for players under the age of 13.

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Per the new protocol, children 10 and under will be barred from heading the ball during any official session — practice or game — while players ages 11 to 13 will have heading limited during training sessions.

From the U.S. Soccer press release:

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

Steve Berman, lead counsel for the plaintiffs said: “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.”

The big question that immediately springs to mind is: how will these new restrictions on heading be enforced at the youth level, which is such a widespread community across the entirety of the U.S.? Another possible outcome to the banning/limiting of headers could see young American players grow much more comfortable operating with the ball at their feet from an early age, thus improving the quality of players coming through the system the next 10, 15 and 20 years.

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From the New York Times:

According to the original filing in the case, nearly 50,000 high school soccer players sustained concussions in 2010 — more players than in baseball, basketball, softball and wrestling combined.

Former U.S. national team and Major League Soccer striker Taylor Twellman, whose professional career was cut short by a series of concussions and never-ending post-concussion symptoms, was one of the first figures from “inside the game” to speak out and voice his approval on Monday.