JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL)- U.S. Soccer, the governing body for the sport in America, is changing the way kids play the game, but some local leagues and associations are not too quick to implement the recommendations.
U.S. Soccer announced Monday that players 10 years-old and younger should not use their head to hit the ball, also known as heading, and kids 11-13 should limit the amount of heading in practice.
The new safety guidelines are mandatory for people who participate in U.S. Soccer’s Youth National Teams and its Development Academy. For other leagues and associations around the country that are not under U.S. Soccer’s control, they are only recommendations.
The initiatives are aimed at addressing head injuries in the sport, but also resolve a class-action lawsuit filed against U.S. Soccer last year.
“The first thoughts were that they were insane,” said Michael Balluff, owner of Johnson City Indoor Soccer, where about 1,200 kids play indoor soccer every winter. Balluff said while many children in the age-group do not head the ball, he’s not rushing to implement the changes. “We’re going to follow it, we’re going to see what other leagues do.”
A 2009 Consumer Product Safety Commission report stated 8,392 kids 14 and younger had sports-related head injuries from playing soccer. But Balluff said heading is the not main cause. “It’s head to head injuries,” Balluff said, “And if you keep the more aggressive players a little more subdued you don’t run into those problems.”
Ten year-old Megan Burleson has been playing soccer for seven years, but she doesn’t head the ball. “I like using my feet and my thighs and not really my head.” Megan’s dad, Brandon Burleson, said he’s not overly concerned about whether the recommendations are put into place. “I feel like at this age group it is probably more a concern than it is a reality.”
U.S. Soccer’s new initiatives also call for more education for players, parents, coaches and referees, as well as more uniform for handling youth concussions. To learn more about the new guidelines go to the U.S Soccer website.