Most would agree that the United States Soccer Federation’s heart is in the right place in trying to limit head injuries among youth. The debate centers on whether organization’s decision to ban headers for athletes under 11 years old playing on national and Major League Soccer-affiliated teams is the right approach.
The new policy is controversial—only one sports planner agreed to comment on it in our requests—if for no other reason than some feel it will set the country’s program further behind powerhouse programs. But even the matter of safety remains in question.
“I respect what U.S. Soccer is attempting to do, but I am not sure this new policy is actually accomplishing anything,” says Matt Libber, CSEE, VP of operations and business development at Elite Tournaments. “If you watch a U-10 game now, you can count on one hand the number of head balls there are.”
In addition to the outright ban for the sport’s youngest athletes, the new regulations call for reduced headers between ages 11 and 13. The rules were announced as U.S. Soccer faced legal action over concussions.
Libber argues the regulations will have a limited reach at best because national teams start at 14 years old and few MLS franchises have clubs in a lower age bracket. And since the policy is strictly a guideline, it will be up to national governing bodies under U.S. Soccer to adopt it, or the rules will have no teeth.
A better technique to limit head injuries is better coaching says Libber, whose Baltimore-based organization oversees more than 50 tournaments per year.
“Now you have a situation where the players will be heading a ball in a game but will have no opportunity to learn how to head the ball properly because they cannot practice it in training,” he says.