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U.S. Soccer unveils policy to remove heading from youth teams


Heading is set to be a thing of the past in U.S. youth teams across the country.

U.S. Soccer introduced safety initiatives to address head injury concerns on Monday, and one policy will see strict limits set on youth players heading the ball during games and practice, according to The New York Times. Under the policy, players younger than 10 years of age will be prohibited from heading, while players age 11 to 13 will reduce head usage during practice.

“What we’re establishing is creating parameters and guidelines with regards to the amount of exposure (to potential head injuries),” U.S. Soccer chief medical officer George Chiampas said in a conference call.

The polices will be mandatory for all U.S. Soccer youth national teams and academies, as well as MLS youth club teams. However, all other programs and associations not under control by U.S. Soccer have the choice to implement such proposed practices.

Meanwhile, substitution rules for players suspected of having suffered a concussion during play were also addressed. Under FIFA’s international rules, only three substitutions are allowed per competitive match. In the next 30 days, U.S. Soccer will announce a policy to address the possibility of adding a temporary substitution for a player with a head injury.

With the introduction of such policies, U.S. Soccer resolved a legal case against it. The case was filed by players and parents against FIFA, U.S. Soccer and the American Youth Soccer Organization in Aug. 2014, and the group charged the soccer organizations and federation with negligence in treating and monitoring head injuries. The group only wanted to see rule changes; thus, they did not seek any financial damages.

What do you think about U.S. Soccer’s new safety initiatives? Think removing heading from youth teams is the best solution?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. So the restart for a deliberate heading is an indirect free kick…. Do the referee apply advantage like with other infractions/ fouls? What if the kid deliberatly heads the ball and it goes into his/her own goal? what’s the restart? Indirect free kick or kick off?

  2. Dear US Soccer,

    Personal liability is a part of every sport, at every age, and life for every parent and their children. What you’ve allowed your legal and medical “experts” to do is take statistics and interpret those statistics to generically support their argument and worse, taken a parent’s personal responsibility and a child’s own ability to grown learn and try to develop skills of their own fruition.

    All this does is protect US Soccer’s concerns for liability and handicap the development of players. And honestly, take what can be a fun aspect of the sport out of the game. I have played soccer since age 4. I played at the highest level of select club soccer, was a regional all state high school player, a Regional ODP player, played in Europe and South America. I was a D1 college player, and played competitively until I was 36. I was coached and learned proper technique at a young age. I was coached to understand scenarios when making the effort to head a ball, from a punt or in the course of play, could affect my own personal well-being.

    The worst concussions I have seen were never a matter of repetitive heading in practice or from heading a punt, but head to head collisions of mature players from age 10 and up.

    All this does is handicap coaches, children, and the development of US Soccer relative to the world. And for what? You can claim safety statistics broadly scoped from a plethora of data without having any specifics of the circumstances, but the reality is this is, to be frank, a Cover Your Butt move. Kids will still see pros and older kids above them practicing and using the techniques and games. You message to them “heading can hurt you”. The in 10-15 years you’ll have brought through the system kids not understanding good technique and not being able to properly compete using heading skills when it becomes a more integral part of the game at an older age. Most likely, they will be hurt even more and because of being tentative as well as degrading the skills of players in the country.

    Great move! Eliminate personal responsibility and smart ways to help the problem and skip right to making the game and our kids and future worse players!

  3. I’ve coached youth soccer for ten years and have had one player receive a concussion, that was due to a driven ball that caught him in the side of the head at about fifteen yards. He was simply in the way not attempting a header.

    I started coaching proper heading to those who wanted to lean in U8 simply because they were inclined to try in a game. Few actually did head in games at that age but those who would may have been saved a bloody nose or two because they know how.

    I have seen far more foot and knee injuries over the years due to improper tackling and less skilled players. Bringing greater attention to conditioning, knee stability exercises and of course technique would help youth soccer immensely.

    Concussions are a hot topic and something to be concerned about but are they really a common occurrence from heading the ball in soccer? Both of my boys, and most of my team, are aggressive headers and while I sometimes wonder if they aren’t brain damaged I recognize that they are just young teenagers.

  4. I instructed my U8 and U10 boys on the proper technique of heading using a nerf ball. Even knowing the technique, the only times I ever see them head during a game is if a pass, shot, or whatever is aimed right at their face or side of their head. They don’t have time to do anything else. Removing heading, and making an indirect kick at the spot, will force my kids (and I am sure others) to make a conscious decision to take a foul or penalty, only to save themselves from a broken/bloody nose or an even more dangerous hit to the side of the head/ear/temple. I don’t care if they ban heading from practices. I don’t care if they simply disallow goals scored by heading to discourage it… But to micro-manage it on the field can make thing even more dangerous and force kids to make unsafe decisions rather than give the other team a scoring opportunity.

  5. I’ve seen a few comments on here mention that since it’s just U-10 that it doesn’t really matter cause kids aren’t heading soccer that age all that much. My question is, is that only the case in the US though? Are kids in Europe and Latin America that age actively heading the ball? And if so wouldn’t this put development even further behind other countries?

  6. My son had an MEG test done, there are only 20 machines in the country. While his was not due to a soccer injury, the researchers said that soccer head injuries are actually now the number 1 reason for those tests in sports related injuries even more than football. They were telling me that some of these kids have some seriously bad injuries that resembled years of head trauma.

  7. Is this actually going to be enforced outside of not explicitly running drills where heading is the goal? If someone uses their head during a practice or game what is their punishment going to be exactly? Run a lap? Push ups? You get sent home? I feel like this is going to be like using the bathroom on a plane when the seat belt sign is on. You can still go if you don’t ask, but if you ask to use the bathroom the flight attendant will say you can’t.

    • I couldn’t find anywhere where that has been worked out yet. But I would start with goals would be disallowed and discipline would be taken against the player, yellow card or forced time out of the game depending on league rules. Coaches still practicing headers certainly would open themselves up to losing their coaching credentials and risk lawsuit (if a kid got hurt during the drill they might as well write a blank check). Non-US soccer organizations in the US will also most likely follow suit as they will not want to open themselves up to lawsuits either.

      Will there be bad actors that continue to do it because they think it will give their kids competitive advantage when they are 14 or 15 sure, we see that in football with players still using their helmet to tackle, but it will decrease the amount of the number of incidents at these lower levels.

  8. I’m okay with headers being taken away at level to an extent. They should be allowed to head a bouncing ball. High ball, let it hit the ground, then use head to redirect or control. Many kids are afraid of heading a ball straight off a punt, but they will head it once it bounces. If they can’t head off the bounce, you may see many more high kicks.

    • My daughters’ club does not let their goalies punt. They either throw it or dribble it out…less focus on kicking it up the field and have a fast player just chase it down.

  9. This new comment system doesn’t work so well. I took the time to write something thoughtful, but it doesn’t show after I add the comment. Not the first this has happened. Giving up on SBI.

    • This has happened to me several times. The text i put in the text box failed to appear, or, worse yet, the comment was truncated where only the last portion of the text made it to the screen. It then went away for a while.

      If your frustrated, a workaround would be to open a simple text editor, write you comment and cut, past and post. Just make sure you account for word wrapping.

  10. Optimistic but maybe the benefit is that our youth will have to learn to keep the ball on the ground and more emphasis on technical ability. As opposed to just lobbing it into the box in hope someone gets a head on it.

  11. Does anyone have a link to a study that proves heading ball causes concussions in youth soccer? I would like to know what facts the ruling was based on. My fear is that this is one more ruling created on emotion rather than reason.

    • There must be some science or medicine behind the case or there wouldn’t have been a settlement.

      i think that this is similar to youth (American) football where the emphasis is being returned to good tackling, and not leading with the helmet, and therefore an emphasis on the skill positions and speed.

      This could result in a pattern of increased skills because the ball remains on the ground and kids are forced to trap, pass and move, instead of “kicking it to the wing” and crossing it in. i.e. more emphasis on skill and less on athleticism.

    • Here are two scientific/evidence-based discussions, one from the Journal of the American Medical Association, and the other in Scientific American:

      The gist is that the bulk of concussions are from athlete-athlete collisions, but the most frequent soccer activity that leads to them is heading the ball. In other words, the most common concussions are from players hitting heads while trying to play the ball with their heads.

      However, there is also evidence from other sports that indicates non-concussive brain injuries cause CTE. There is also evidence that younger, still-developing brains are more susceptible to non-concussive brain injuries. So it’s not just about concussions. It’s also about preventing the long-term problems that often won’t be seen for 30 years.

      Caution is probably the better part of valor here. The side effect is that it encourages the development of more technical ability rather than allowing the kids who hit a growth spurt early to dominate sloppy aerial games. I’m slightly disappointed that they didn’t stretch the outright ban up to U-14, frankly.

  12. This is a minimal change and pretty reasonable. I’d much rather focus on teaching kids to bring the ball down and control it anyway. I’d argue that heading the ball correctly takes a level of strength, coordination, and body control that starts around high school. Most small kids basically just let the ball hit their head, as opposed to generating force with the neck and core.

    I also agree with some posters here saying that heading doesn’t cause concussions and there is no strong link indicating that heading links to CTE. But, I bet limiting headers will also lower the number of kids that bang heads together going for headers.

    • Exactly. Overreactions at ESPNFC, “U.S. soccer will always suck now.” But the reason why U.S. soccer is behind has more to do with kids not learning to use both feet.

      The safety of millions of kids, most of who will not play professionally and don’t want to, supercedes the vanity of a few and a loud minority of ignorant couch potatoes. Besides, in my opinion, domestic players rely on headers far too much anyway. MLS games often look like glorified 3v3 header drills, ping-pong soccer.

    • This will not impact the quality of young players foot skills, perhaps their first touch or chesting, but not foot skills. Most kids at these ages don’t want to head the ball anyway and have far fewer opportunities to do it even if they did. My main concern is will we now see more dangerous kicks and kicked balls to the head because of this. The only point I see to this is to protect US Soccer from lawsuits. Otherwise they would have made this mandatory for all youth leagues that are US Soccer members which would then include all US Youth Socccer, US Club Soccer, and AYSO teams. They could have just written it into the bylaws. Kids are still going to head the ball on their own, and this may have created an incentive for kids to practice it on their own much more than they normally would have as a way to get an edge on the competition (players in MLS and Dev Academy clubs are pretty competitive by nature).

  13. I think it’s a mistake in that young players will not be able to develop expertise at a young age to redirect passes or shots, a skill that every other child in other countries will learn.

    Although I suppose it’s inevitable and probably in the long run, head protection is of paramount importance.

    I was involved in a defendant in lawsuit from the 1980’s from a series of big money cycling races I promoted, although I was later dismissed as a defendant in the case as the issue was over the use and design of helmets in competitive cycling, which I had no part. The plaintiff in the lawsuit claimed that helmets used in cycling at the time (the leather “hairnets” ) st the amateur level were less than effectual and offered poor protection. At the professional level, helmets were NOT mandatory and most riders wore none!

    Eventually the courts ruled in favor of the defendant and the US Cycling Federation (USCF, now USAC) had to adopt new helmet rules, that conformed to ANSI and other standards. It set off a chain of events and eventually was adopted for all competitive cycling events over the whole world, including the professional level, and spawned a new multi million dollar industry. The main driver was the insurance companies that insured the race events, who effectively said, no new helmets, no insurance.

    It’s sad when an outside industry exerts influence over the playing of a sport, but as the sport progresses and gets bigger, money follows and so do vested interests.

    I think what will follow eventually, if it is determined that heading is a skill that cannot be delayed, is the adoption of a “soft” soccer helmet, probably a hybrid of the one used by goalies like Peter Cech, which we all know was first used after a run-in with Clint Dempsey’s knee in an EPL match years ago, for use at the youth level.

    At least this one is not blamed on me.

    • “It’s sad when an outside industry exerts influence over the playing of a sport.” It’s also sad when you or someone you love suffers from lasting head trauma. I don’t know about his current status, but a year or two ago I read that Taylor Twellman, who had to retire from soccer because of recurrent concussions, was still suffering from headaches and other after effects. How many serious head injuries have been prevented because of bicycle helmets? You don’t want to put people in a cocoon, but you need to especially be careful with kids since they aren’t informed enough or mature enough to make decisions about these things.

      • I was about 11 years old when I first played soccer in So. Cal and in the fist week, the coach of our local “park” team, who was a former pro in Mexico had everybody stand in front of goal and shot at them, balls at various speeds. If you got your head on one, you were put in one group, missed in another group. As this was the 60’s we didn’t use no namby-pamby 32 panel adidas 16 oz balls either, these were the 18 strip panel balls sown with laces from the inside with heavy duty leather and weighing probably about 10oz more than modern soccer balls. If I remember right, I took at least 4-5 shots to the noggin and it was only because I had to take off my heavy “glass” glasses, extra thick as I had astigmatism. so I never saw the balls coming til they were about 5 feet away and too late to duck, which was what everybody else was doing. I got a starting spot on the team, but later that night, even after putting my glasses back on, things were still blurry. My mom, a registered nurse, said I had a concussion and kept me home from school and play for several days I don’t think I ever headed a ball more than twice after that in about 4 years of grade school soccer.

        So I think can testify that although it was a lot easier to get a concussion in those days, because of bad training and heavy balls but we didn’t identify the harm back then, and what repercussions were down the road with potential physical harm and cognitive impairment.

        My last concussion was a lot worse at it was in the middle of a long road race in France (cycling) where I was descending in a peleton, a mountain, at around 90kph and a rider clipped my wheel and I went down and after sliding about 10-20 meters I went over a cliff. I don’t remember much, as I woke up in the local hospital with road rash, a headache and some cuts and bruises and a teammate was telling me I was lucky I hit the tree, otherwise I would have gone over the cliff! I was more than happy to come out with a concussion even wearing a “hair net” (I was still an elite amateur rider), the doctors there (like my mom) told me to take a week off.

        But over the years I has several riders and one friend, I knew killed, in racing and training, because of poor helmet protection. But I personally knew of no one who ever suffered life threatening head injuries from a collision in football. But that just explains the difference of the sports, not the need for protection.

        But I think the issue the USSF, is dealing with is a decree from the courts, that we need to do a better job at at protecting young footballers in dealing with repeated potential head trauma that would, or could, lead to concussions and further brain damage. It is often when we are not proactive in these areas of our sport that other outside the sport, decide for us.

        I differ though, on the approach. I believe, rather that by eliminating the headers in practice and games, it will diminishes the ability for players to accomplish that skill. And by eliminating that need for the skill, you completely change the way football is taught via the tactics, positioning and formations and strategy that an aerial game brings, even at that young age.

        I rather think that the requirement of protective head gear WITH a further reduction in ball weight and size would have the same effect for protective purposes and still would allow youth players to learn needed skill set that will be of value if they continue learning and playing the game.

      • You are right! Dempsey’s collision with Cech was in 2008, I thought it was in 2007. It was in 2007 that Cech returned from the Hunt injury from 2006, and first wore the headgear, which was actually rugby headgear.

        Amazingly, at first the FA and then Chelsea and the Czech national team would not allow him to wear it. Why? for the FA, it was not “approved” apparel and could be a danger as the original rugby helmet had hard plastic inserts, the Czech national tam would not allow it as it conflicted with their Puma sponsorship and Chelsea, with their Adidas sponsorship. This was rectified when Adidas made a new FA and FIFA approved helmet (sans plastic insert) and made one with no Adidas trademark for use with the Czech National team.

        A quick check on Google revealed that there are soccer helmets made for goalkeepers from at least 5 different manufacturers with youth amateur and college amateur players the biggest market.

  14. Is heading what even causes concussions? I thought that most head injuries come from players running into each other or balls hitting the head unexpectedly.

    I guess it might limit clashes of heads when two players go up for a header together.

    But still….kids that age don’t seem to do much heading anyway.

    • There are studies that say repetitive heading can cause injuries. So, this is why they want to outlaw at a younger age, then limit the new group. Much like they limit contact for football teams during practice

  15. Oh man, this is the dumbest thing ever. Kids will not know how to head the ball and this will cause more injuries! What’s next, no tackling for kids playing football?

    • Some people have already brought suit to bring about this kind of change. If soccer failed to take this action and some kid suffers severe brain damage while playing soccer with the old rules, it would be a slam dunk win for the parents in a civil suit. A good attorney would go after everyone from FIFA on down and potentially win millions.

    • i really don’t get the counter argument that kids won’t know how to head the ball. we’re talking U-10. they should be focused on their foot skills. then the limit comes into play up to a certain age where proper heading technique can be taught. from there, no limits are in place. and none of this prevents a kid from practicing headers on their own time.

      i am not sure where i stand on the issue, not enough research available, but the gut reaction to say the US will be bad at heading is comical. especially because everyone seems to be focused on the attacking side of it. look at MLS, Kei Kamara has 11 goals from headers. the next highest players has FOUR. defending would take the biggest hit…not attacking.

      point is, even if the rule isn’t perfect, it’s certainly not an awful thing to bring into the spotlight. more research on CTE in soccer players is a good thing.

  16. Is it just me or is reducing heading in practice going to cause more injuries in games since players won’t be taught how to head the ball correctly?

    • That is the counter-argument. I don’t know the answer. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, there isn’t much solid data in linking heading with concussions. It’s just not an easy thing to track. I think the newest research is linking repetitive non-concussive head trauma to CTE, so heading the ball in soccer may fall into that category. I still tend to think that head-to-head collisions are more likely to be a problem, but that is just an opinion.

      My son is 7, and they have never practiced heading in his league to my knowledge. I have showed him the basics (mostly with me doing the heading), and even did a short finishing drill with him heading. (My wife pestered me the whole time.) It’s a big issue and we are probably best proceeding cautiously until more research comes in.

      • I saw a report several years ago that found that the main danger from concussions in soccer is due to people both going after balls and butting heads. Researchers found no long term damage from strictly heading the ball; i.e., striking the ball with the head. The main danger is head to head contact. Most all head injuries you see in pro soccer are from head to head contact. If you outlaw heading you also greatly reduce the chances of head to head contact so I think this rule makes good sense. Football’s failure to really address the issue of concussions may lead to its eventual demise unless they make real changes.

      • Gary;

        here is a detailed report from the NY Times from back in February 2014. it’s on how repeated blows to the head could have caused Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in Patrick Grange. while it goes on to say heading the ball is likely to be a cause, it also notes there is usually a concussion history from clashes of the head or even non-soccer related accidents as well. it does point out that the case detailed in the article cannot be simply attributed to heading the ball, but that it should be noted.

        in any event, it’s a good read.

      • Outside the Lines is running the Patrick Grange story today as well. They also report in the story about a study in Italy of retired soccer pros having a much greater risk of Lou Gehrig’s Disease or ALS which was what Grange died from complications of.

    • You make a good point there. A possible solution would be telling the Youth to not go for headers, I’m not sure if this decision is more emotion based but it seems like it is. There’s no evidence to support the this ruling.


    • If they teach kids to shoulder the ball instead of heading the ball I don’t think proper technique will be an issue. I remember shouldering the ball in a game for the first time and realizing when done properly it can be more effective than. Obviously you don’t want to risk doing it in the box because a lot of refs/players will incorrectly call it a hand ball.

  17. In my experience there isn’t a ton of heading in U-10 or younger games anyway. Though I’ve mostly coached girls teams so maybe it’s different with the boys.

    • In my experience, as the father of a 9-year old, some kids are more apt to try it than others. It has not been formally taught to my son (and he is not one apt to try it – he’s more apt to stick his hands in front of his face). But some of his teammates go out of their way to try to head the ball – perhaps it has been taught to them by their parents or siblings or on travel teams.

      I don’t know enough about concussions to know if this is the right answer or if it is simply CYA by US Soccer. My initial instinct is that I headed the ball as a kid and survived OK, but who knows.

      • I guess I’m curious to know how many concussions are actually caused by headers as opposed to getting hit in the head with the ball or some other reason.

        I have the same experience with youth teams, especially on the less competitive level, there aren’t a lot of kids that are looking to head the ball. Sure some non-soccer parent coaches might try to teach it but I really don’t see much of it in games or practices. I always tell my daughters (U9 and younger) to avoid it if at all possible…

    • My girls both played up through college and the only head injury either ever suffered was from a clash of heads, not from actually heading the ball (although obviously that resulted from going for a header).


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