United States

Soccer Governing Body Bans Headers for Young Players

The governing body for soccer in the United States has banned children aged 10 and under from using their heads to hit the ball during practice and games.

The United States Soccer Federation also said players between 11 and 13 years can use their heads during games, but not during practices.

The changes announced Monday came after a lawsuit accusing the USSF of negligence when it comes to treating and monitoring head injuries.

"I think they're really good changes," said Dr. Kathleen Bell, director of UT Southwestern Medical Center's Concussion Clinic. "Brains do not mature fully until the age of 24 or 25, so even during the teenage years brains are not fully developed."

Bell points out many of the concussions related to soccer are tied to players hitting each other, rather than the ball, but she acknowledges the need to be more proactive at helping preventing concussions and brain traumas from heading soccer balls.

"There are children now that play soccer year-round," she said. "With sports in this country, children are starting younger and playing harder at earlier ages."

Dwayne Bobbitt's 9-year-old daughter, Kourtney, plays for the Mansfield Revolutions.

"Last Saturday she fell on the turf and hit her head," Dwayne Bobbitt said. "After the game, she said she had a really bad headache. She was crying. The doctor came over and gave her the concussion test."

The father said an on-site doctor confirmed his daughter did not have a concussion.

"I think it's really big for them to be there for kids this age, for them to be able to take a concussion test," he said.

Bell said concussions are more frequent among female athletes.

Right now, there's uncertainty if the changes made by the USSF will be effective at lowering the number of young players with concussions. It's also unclear how it's new rules will be enforced.

The soccer federation says it will update its policies as research on concussions evolves.

Right now, UT Southwestern is conducting a long-term study that hopes to help grow scientific knowledge about concussions and brain traumas. It's called "The CON-TEX Study" and is designed to capture comprehensive, longitudinal data on sports-related concussion and mild traumatic brain injury subjects.

Bell is leading the study and says knowledge from the study will guide best practices to improve the long-term health of student and adult athletes.

Athletes may qualify to participate if they are between 12 and 20 years old, and they were treated for a concussion at UT Southwestern Medical Center or at partnering sites. For more information, visit the UT Southwestern Medical Center website.

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