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November 10, 2015

U.S. Soccer announces new header rules to protect young players from concussions

U.S. Soccer announced Monday a series of new rules and initiatives to help reduce concussions among youth soccer players, according to the Concussion Legacy Foundation.

The new rules will prohibit players who are 10 and younger from heading the ball. In addition, headers will be limited during practice for 11- to 13-year-old players.

"Research has shown that delaying the introduction of headers to age 14 would prevent over 35,000 concussions in middle school players per year," Concussion Legacy Foundation Founding Medical Director Robert Cantu said in a statement. "These new rules still leave many of those middle schoolers at risk, so we will continue to campaign to raise the age further."

The regulations will be mandatory for U.S. Soccer youth national teams and academies, including Major League Soccer youth club teams.

The move by U.S. Soccer resolves a proposed class-action lawsuit filed against U.S. Soccer and others last year. A group of parents and players filed the lawsuit, charging FIFA, U.S. Soccer and the American Youth Soccer Organization with negligence in treating and monitoring head injuries, according to The New York Times.

The suit sought no financial damages, only rules changes, as FIFA joined other sports governing bodies like the N.F.L., the N.H.L. and the N.C.A.A. in facing a lawsuit over head injuries. A judge ruled in the summer that the case against FIFA had no standing, but that an amended complaint could be filed against U.S. Soccer. The announcement of Monday’s initiatives will serve as a resolution in the case, and Steve Berman, the lawyer who brought the case, agreed not to appeal the dismissal.

“These guidelines are a major victory for the Safer Soccer campaign and a fantastic first step in making the world’s most popular sport safer to play for children,” Concussion Legacy Foundation Founding Executive Director Chris Nowinski said in a statement.

The Safer Soccer campaign aims to delay the introduction of headers until high school. 

Further details of U.S. Soccer's safety campaign are expected to be announced over the next month.