New Guidelines for Youth Soccer to Protect Young Brains

NJ Spotlight News | November 17, 2015 | Health Care, Sports
They will drastically change how youth come in contact with the ball.

By Briana Vannozzi

In a game where feet rule, the head is getting all the emphasis.

New guidelines from the U.S. Soccer Federation will drastically change how youth come in contact with the ball. The organization released new safety measures in an effort to prevent head injuries on the field.

Children ages 10 and younger will be banned from heading in both games and practices. Children age 11 to 13 will have restrictions that limit head balls to games only.

“The game has changed over the last 20 years, this is just one more change that has to be done,” said John Soares. He is a long-time coach and president of the north jersey-based, Northern Counties Soccer Association, he expected the federation to require head gear, not issue an all out ban. “It’s about adjustment and its going to take time, its going to take education. You have to talk to the coaches and to the parents and the players.”

The change comes after resolving a class-action lawsuit filed by parents. They accused soccer’s governing bodies of negligence in addressing and treating head injuries.

Rosemarie Scolaro Moser, Director, Sports Concussion Center of New Jersey said “it’s a great step forward in terms of educating people.”

Doctor Rosemarie Scolaro Moser is a leading expert on youth sports concussions. She believes part of the problem is that kids start competitive sports younger and they’re playing year round. “Every time you have an athletic exposure you increase your probability of having a concussion. So by the time the student is in high school they may have had a number of concussions.”

As the Director of the Sports Concussion Center of New Jersey and a member of the CDCP’s panel for pediatric mild traumatic brain injury, Moser thinks the U.S. Soccer Federation got this one right. “I believe that scientists and researchers are thinking, yes, shaking the brain repeatedly especially a young, vulnerable brain will result in changes. We’re in the process now of trying to figure out how we’re going to measure that.”

Those are sometimes called subconcussive blows. Hits to the head, like years of head balls, that don’t present symptoms, but may be causing mild traumas to the brain. “In other words shaking the brain of a youth athlete repeatedly over the years does that then result in that one big concussion that brings them to the doctors office? We still have so many questions to answer.”

And while Soares will help his coaches and athletes move forward, he’s not entirely convinced. “Personally I don’t think a lot of the concussions come from heading the ball.”

And Doctor Moser agrees. “Most concussions do not occur because of headers. So for boys and girls it might be a quarter or less of concussions that can be attributed to headers. So we still have to think about all the other concussions that can occur.”

There’s still a lot we don’t know, like the exact limitations for those 11 to 13 year-olds and if there will be penalities for a player who accidentally or illegaly heads a ball during the game. Coaches and athletes are anxiously awaiting those details, which will be released by U.S. Soccer officials, in early December.