New guidelines change \"header\" rules for youth soccer

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COLUMBIA - Soccer is heading in a new direction.

United States Soccer has announced new initiatives in order to reduce the frequency of concussions in youth soccer.

Under the new guidelines, players under 10 years old will be prohibited from "heading" the ball in any fashion. The new rules also stipulate that players aged 11-13 will only be allowed to "head" the ball during practice, and not in games.

New rules regarding substitutions are also expected to be applied during games in order for players with suspected concussions to be checked out properly.

Sporting Columbia coach Kevin Roderique said the new guidelines are a good start to help prevent concussions.

"I think it's a very serious thing that we need to be dealing with," Roderique said. "I think it's really good to be starting off at the youth age because it's the one thing that we can control right now."

Roderique said curbing the use of "headers" in youth soccer will not only decrease concussions from head-to-ball contact, but it will decrease other concussion risks as well.

"What we're finding out is it's not the actual act of heading the ball that's causing the issue," Roderique said. "It's either them coming together in the air with their heads or falling to the ground and hitting their heads on the ground."

Although sports like football and hockey get most of the headlines when it comes to concussions, head injuries from soccer can be just as damaging, and with more than three million youth soccer participants last year, there is no shortage of possible victims.

"Studies have been done that show that when someone is hit in the head with a soccer ball it's almost equivalent to being hit at a force of 70 miles per hour," Neurologist Komal Ashraf said. "In a young person with not a lot of room for the brain to move around in the skull, that is a significant impact that can have long-term consequences."

Ashraf said since the anatomy of children is not fully-matured, concussions can have an especially harmful effect.

"In a young person's brain all of the development hasn't happened yet. So a small injury can cause much more devastating effects long-term," Ashraf said. "Because of the size of their skull relative to their brain they are much more susceptible to tissue or brain injury as a result of a concussion or being hit in the head."

As for rules going forward, Roderique said he thinks a somewhat drastic change could be in the sport's future.

"I think at one point MSHAA for the high school will make every high school athlete wear headgear," Roderique said. "Coming soon, I don't know how close that is down the line. But that's one of those things where they're already doing so many precautions to try to educate people and to understand what happens when you get a concussion, but there's nothing being done right now at that level to prevent them from happening."