The days of kids 10 years old or younger heading the ball in a soccer game or practice are over.
In resolving a class-action lawsuit regarding the large number of concussions in the sport, the U.S. Soccer Federation has issued new guidelines either banning or limiting players heading the ball depending on their age. Children 10 years or under will no longer be allowed to head the ball in practice or games, while players ages 11 to 13 will only be allowed to do it during practice, not games.
The changes have come after a class-action lawsuit brought by a group of parents and players last year in U.S. District Court in California that sought rule changes preventing head injuries. The lawsuit charged FIFA, U.S. Soccer and the American Youth Soccer Organization with negligence for not addressing the issue. In 2010, more high school soccer players suffered concussions (50,000) than athletes in wrestling, baseball, basketball and softball combined, the lawsuit noted, according to The New York Times.
The changes come at a time when concussions have become a serious concern, particularly in youth soccer and football.
Reaction to the policy has been mixed. Former U.S. national team member Taylor Twellman, an ESPN soccer analyst whose career came to an end because of multiple concussions, was in favor of the move. Others viewed it as a step back in the development of young players.
Some experts claim the ban on heading could result in more talented players in the coming years because they are forced to become more skilled with their feet. TODAY's Matt Lauer, a parent of a youth soccer player, also weighed in.
"I have a 14-year-old who plays soccer, and I really think it's a question of them learning the proper technique, but if they can't master it at a very young age, it can cause damage,'' Lauer said. "They're saying it's the repetitive nature of heading the ball that could be the problem."
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