Last Monday, the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) issued new guidelines that may jeopardize the ability of American soccer to establish itself as a competitive, prestigious program internationally. USSF is implementing new regulations to prevent payers from using their head to hit or tap the ball during the game. Youth soccer players of ages 10 and under will no longer be able to head ball, while players from 11 to 13 will have limited heading in their practice sessions.
Last year, two former soccer players and their parents filed a tenable lawsuit against the USSF and FIFA because the federations “failed at the most basic duty of a governing body– to protect the health and safety of those that are governed.” The suit focused mainly on FIFA and the USSF’s failure to address head injuries, as well as on data on the severity of head injuries and on how there needs to be a change of rules regarding the safety of youth players.
For the last 20 years, soccer in the United States has experienced tremendous growth, specifically within the youth brackets. Programs like the U.S. Soccer Academy for boys and Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) for girls have fought against the idea that U.S. soccer fails to live up to the level of play compared to the rest of the world. Additionally, youth national teams for both boys and girls of ages 14 and higher are now competing against the top nations of the world. With all these systems in place, American soccer should logically be in a steady trajectory towards global recognition. Yet how can such a vision be realized if a vital part of the game will no longer be allowed for the kids with dreams of playing nationally?
Banning heading will change the game drastically. Such a decision will affect the attacking and defensive side of soccer. Corner kicks and crosses will have to be on the floor, and not in the air. When the ball is in the air what should the players do? Should they duck and wait until the ball is on the floor? If a player heads the ball, will he or she get carded? The USSF should increase the focus on teaching kids how to properly head the ball instead of it altogether.
It is true that the awareness of head injuries is lacking, but officials should instead create new rules that recognize when a player is injured and make referees and coaches more aware of the situation. Banning heading will make things even worse and increase the chances of injury. When players are not allowed to header the ball, they may make dangerous challenges in the air that have not yet been taught. In the last 11 years of my playing career, and two years of coaching boys under the age of 11, there have been no concussions from heading the ball. All concussions I’ve seen occurred after an unintentional contact with another object— heads, arms, posts.
Jacob Pickard, assistant coach at the University of San Francisco, stated, “If they learn how to do it properly and if they are instructed on how to do it from a younger age, they wil get better at it throughout their whole career and decrease their chances of getting hurt.”
How will the future of American soccer be impacted? When this generation of American players turn old enough to represent their country, they will be outplayed and left behind other nations in the development process. According to Pickard, “If you don’t header until you are 11 you will be far behind kids that learned at 6 years old. Kids around the world will be continuing to learn these skills that Americans won’t learn until later. That’s sadly part of the reason why we are not in that A list of soccer countries right now and this is just one more step in the wrong direction.”
Overall, the principle behind this decision is still mind blowing. In the lawsuit, it states, “In 2010 more soccer players suffered concussions than baseball, softball,and basketball combined, according to the center for Injury Research and Policy in Columbus, Ohio.” Soccer is a contact sport— players and families should know of the consequences. The decision passed by the USSF illustrates how American soccer is still not at a level of prestige and in all honesty, embarrasses the sport as a whole.
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