With increased scrutiny falling on how concussions are handled in sports organization, the U.S. Soccer Federation is enacting a new youth soccer initiative aimed at keeping the brains of young athletes safe.
Among the changes, the U.S. Soccer Federation is putting an end to heading the ball for players 10 and younger, limiting heading for athletes between the ages of 11 and 13, and ensuring medical personnel are present during games to help quickly assess potentially injured athletes.
While football has received the most attention from the media and public for its issues with brain injuries, soccer has its fair share of concussion problems. In August 2014, parents and players filed a lawsuit in California against FIFA, the international governing body of soccer, as well as the U.S. Soccer Federation, the U.S. Youth Soccer Association and other U.S. soccer groups.
The lawsuit was dismissed in July, but on Monday a settlement was announced alongside the initiative as a joint effort by both sides of the lawsuit. Despite this, the U.S. Soccer Federation maintained it had begun preparing the rules prior to the lawsuit being filed.
The federation says that the rules will not be binding to all players. For youth groups that don’t report directly to the U.S. Soccer Federation, the changes will simply be recommendations. However, the rules are mandatory “for players that are part of U.S. Soccer’s Youth National Teams and the Development Academy.”
In a statement released coinciding with the announcement of the changes, Steve Berman, a lawyer representing the parents and players who filed the lawsuit, said his clients were “pleased” by the new initiative.
“We feel we have accomplished our primary goal and therefore do not see any need to continue the pursuit of the litigation,” Berman said. “We are pleased that we were able to play a role in improving the safety of the sport.”