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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California
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U.S. Soccer Federation Has New Guidelines For Heading The Ball

Children under the age of 11 are no longer allowed to head the soccer ball in practice or games. Will this prevent kids from developing critical skills necessary to play the game or will it prevent harmful injuries? 

The U.S. Soccer Federation has a new message for young players - don’t use your head.

This week the organization announced a new initiative that recommends children under the age of 11 no longer head the ball in practices or games. The new guidelines work to improve awareness and treatment of concussions, but some parents and players are disappointed.

“Do we want to wrap our children in bubble wrap? That’s basically putting a downer on the game,” said John Conroy. “It’s a big part of the game being able to head the ball.”

Conroy is from England and he grew up playing soccer in the morning, noon and night. He coaches his daughter, Cara, who has played soccer in youth leagues and club teams since she was four years old. She also said heading the soccer ball is a critical part of the game. 

“If you can’t head it, there’s not really much you can do,” said Cara. “If you can’t use your head, it’s taking away an aspect of the game that you really need. It should be okay for kids they should just be careful about it.”

According to the class-action lawsuit from a group or parents and players last year in the U.S. District Court in California that spurred this change to prevent head injuries, high school soccer players suffered more than 50,000 concussions in one year. This is number is more than athletes in wrestling, baseball, basketball and softball combined.  

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

Paul Blechner is a coach and board member for the American Youth Soccer Organization in Region 19. Blechner is happy about the upcoming change, but still has questions for how the rules will be enforced.

“Implementation will be coming but we don’t know what it will look like. Will the referees actually be blowing the whistle?” said Blechner. “If a kid tries to head the ball, is it the kid who heads the ball at fault, or is it the kid who kicked it in the air that is at fault?”

The U.S. Soccer Federation has not yet shared when the specifics and implementation measures will be released. Meanwhile, some physicians are excited about the change. 

RELATED STORY: USSF recommends ban on headers for soccer players 10 and under

Biana Edison is an attending physician for the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles Sports Medicine and Concussion Department. She treats many youth who suffered from concussion related injuries and commends the U.S. Soccer Federation for being a catalyst for change.

“Banning heading for children under the age of 11 can help reduce risk of injury as one’s neck and trunk strength at those ages is not as well-developed,” said Edison. “Young children may often become fearful of the ball when it is approaching their head, forgetting proper technique. These efforts also help maintain the longevity of their athletic careers.”

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