The ball will be staying on the ground for many more young soccer players across America.
Earlier this week, a report broke that the U.S. Soccer Federation had banned headers for any player under 11. For ages 11-13, headers are only allowed during games — not in practice. This decision is the result of a 2014 lawsuit from parents and players who believe organizations have not done enough to address the growing concern over concussions in sports.
This was tough news to take. How could they just remove an entire aspect of the game? People told themselves, “We started playing at four or five years old. We took headers, hit the ground, collided with each other, and got back up. We turned out fine.”
This game is sacred to a lot of players. It hasn’t suffered from the same game-changing rules that football has. It doesn’t require the pads of lacrosse. You just step on the field and play, and if it takes your head to win one extra possession, you do it. Or at least, you used to. Now, those of us who grew up with the game are standing on the outside, watching headers be sacrificed by concerned parents.
The critics of the new ban grow louder when you talk about America’s ability to compete at an international level. Eventually, USA will take the field with a generation of players with little to no education in the proper heading technique until the age of 14 — another roadblock on the way to matching up with our international competition. And while the number of players who will someday meet international competition is small, it is significant to those who live for the game.
But there is, of course, another side. And it’s where former players like Taylor Twellman — who suffered the consequences of multiple concussions — have chosen to stand, along with many youth soccer leagues. Studies have compared the force of a soccer header to hits taken in American football. When you factor in that soccer players are taking headers every day of the week, that kind of punishment can add up.
While we may be missing the opportunity to teach proper aerial technique in practices, we are also eliminating the risk of asking too much of young athletes who have not yet mastered their coordination or built up the necessary muscle groups. No matter how you stack the deck, it’s hard to argue against the safety of young athletes and the risk they endure when stepping onto any field, court, or rink.
Leave us a reply below and tell us what you think. With emotional players on one side, logical parents and officials on the other, this is likely to be debated for quite some time. But like it or not, it’s happening.
By Taylor Wroblewski