The United States Soccer Federation has asked for a series of safety changes aimed at addressing head injuries in soccer, including a policy that limits heading the ball in youth players. The new guidelines come as a result of a proposed class-action lawsuit filed against U.S. Soccer and others last year. Per the U.S. Soccer Federation website, below are frequently asked questions regarding the new safety initiatives.
Frequently Asked Questions
What was agreed to in the lawsuit?
In collaboration with the plaintiffs, the United States Soccer Federation and member defendants have agreed to:
- Improve concussion awareness and education among youth coaches, referees, parents and players
- Instill uniform concussion management and return-to-play protocols for youth players
- Modify substitution rules to allow players who may have suffered a concussion during games to be evaluated without penalty
- Prohibit heading the ball for children 10 and under and limit the activity to practice only for ages 11 to 13.
What has U.S. Soccer been doing in the past regarding concussions?
U.S. Soccer has taken a lead in education, research and proposing rule changes in the area of concussion management and protocols, and has been at the forefront of concussion prevention. Here are a few specific items:
- We have worked collaboratively with national experts in this field for many years, establishing protocols and education materials that we’ve implemented within in our National Teams, Development Academy, and Coaching and Referee programs.
- U.S. Soccer has partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in its “Heads Up” program, which provides numerous resources including concussion education materials for parents, athletes, schools and health care providers about concussions, symptoms, management and return to play protocols.
- We have overseen baseline neurocognitive testing – a tool that assists in the diagnosis and treatment of concussions – for all our National Team players as well as the Development Academy players.
- Our trainers and doctors are educated on concussion management and return-to-play guidelines, and work with athletes before, during and after games.
- We have a Chief Medical Officer, and are pursuing additional research that will provide more information on the causes of injuries and how we can prevent them.
Are the new rules regarding substitutions, elimination of heading for U-10 and below, and limiting heading in practice for ages 11 to 13 going to be required changes?
These changes are recommended for U.S. Soccer’s youth members. Although these are only recommendations, they are based on the advice of the U.S. Soccer medical committee, and therefore U.S. Soccer strongly urges that they be followed.
On the other hand, these are requirements for players that are part of U.S. Soccer’s Youth National Teams and the Development Academy. It should be noted that Youth National Teams will continue to be bound by the substitution rules of the events in which they participate.
Why are the new rules not required for U.S. Soccer’s youth members?
For the youth members, these are framed as recommendations because some of the youth members do not have direct authority at the local level to require the adaption of the rules. But, these recommendations are based on the advice of the U.S. Soccer medical committee, and therefore U.S. Soccer strongly urges that they be followed. Organizations, leagues, clubs and teams should also be aware that each of the 50 states has passed some form of concussion education and management legislation, so they must be sure to comply with these laws in their respective states.
Did the lawsuit prompt the development of the concussion initiative?
No. Over the years, U.S. Soccer has had many measures in place designed to enhance player safety. U.S. Soccer has been working on a comprehensive player safety campaign that addresses head injuries (including concussion education, concussion management and return-to-play protocols), heat-related illness, injury prevention and much more. Work on this campaign, which will be announced soon, was started long before the lawsuit.
When will the player safety campaign be provided and what will it include?
We will share more about the player safety campaign when it is announced before the end of the year.
How was it determined that the ban on heading would apply to 10 and under? Why are the practice limitations on heading only limited to U-12 and U-13?
These limitations were based on the recommendations of the U.S. Soccer medical committee, which includes recognized experts in the field of concussions and concussion management. The science on head injuries is still developing, and the youth concussion initiative provides U.S. Soccer and the youth members with a great deal of flexibility to adapt as more is learned about these issues.
When do the substitution rule changes for the Development Academy take effect?
The new rules will take effect for the Development Academy on Jan. 1, 2016.
Who will be evaluating players suspected of having a head injury during Development Academy matches?
The rules mandate that a Health Care Professional (HCP) must be present at all Development Academy matches and will make any decisions regarding head injuries.
What do the new substitution rules specify within the Development Academy as it relates to head injuries?
If a player suffers a significant blow to the head and is removed from the game to be evaluated for a suspected concussion or head injury, that substitution will not count against a team’s total number of allowed substitutions in a Development Academy game.
If the player with the suspected head injury has received clearance from the HCP to return to the game, the player may re-enter at any stoppage of play. The evaluated player must replace the original substitute and will not count as a substitution.
The player that was temporarily substituted into the game for the player with the suspected head injury will be considered an available substitute and permitted to re-enter the game as a standard substitute per Development Academy rules.