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US Soccer Federation Bans Headers for Youth

Childhood concussions can cause big problems in child development later on. Sports injuries can be some of the worst. The US Soccer Federation is combating childhood brain injury by banning headers by their youngest players.

Childhood sports injuries can put the brakes on a young person’s development and can even cause them to regress. Pee-wee football has been taking the lead, but concussions can happen in any sport with physical contact, from basketball, to volleyball, to soccer.

Now, the U.S. Soccer Federation is stepping up and recognizing the risk, at least a little. On Monday, November 9, 2015, in response to threats of a class action lawsuit, the organization announced new rules. Headers, where a player hits the ball with his or her head, will be off limits for players up to age 10. Players ages 10-12 will be limited in the number of headers they are allowed in practice.

But it isn’t the ball that causes problems on the field. Most concussions happen when players hit heads while both are going after the ball. Sometimes a player’s head will be struck by an elbow or a shoulder. Advocates in favor of stronger limits say that until physical contact is regulated, the header ban will be ineffective.

And then there are the age limits. Robert Cantu, a neurologist and a leading expert on sports-related concussions, told NBC News:

Children between the ages of 10 and 12 are most susceptible to concussions because their brains are underdeveloped and their necks are not strong enough.

But that is the age when the US Soccer Federation’s header ban lifts and players are allowed to learn the technique. That also means they will be the least skilled at the play and could be more likely to be injured while doing it.

Michael Kaplen, an attorney who represents concussion victims and teaches brain injury law at George Washington University Law School, believes the bans are “arbitrary” and “stupid.” He is in favor of a total ban for youth players. He told NBC News:

“These leagues are trying to solve a concussion problem by creating rules that give people a false sense of security. . . . By creating rules, they imply they have addressed and solved this problem, which they have not.”

Kaplen says he intends to use the US Soccer Federation’s new rules as a starting point – an incremental change that he hopes to strengthen when further research becomes available.

Childhood traumatic brain injury can devastate families. While initial injuries caused by sports can be less severe than those caused by falls or auto accidents, the risk of secondary injury is much higher. If coaches and team leaders don’t know how to identify and react to a concussion, a second headshot could have serious, life-changing consequences.

David Christensen is a brain injury attorney at Christensen Law in Southfield, Michigan. He assists the families of TBI victims to recover expenses from insurance companies. If you or someone you know has suffered a traumatic brain injury, contact Christensen Law today for a free consultation.