New rules limit soccer heading by kids to help diminish injuries

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- The U.S. Soccer Federation has new rules banning or limiting headers on its youth teams and academies. It's about preventing head injuries. The rules will just be recommendations for local clubs, but many say they'll follow them.

Kids are headstrong about headers. Even Zack Murphy is. He suffered a concussion last month when his head collided with an opponent as they went for the ball.

"As long as you're doing it properly, I don't think there's an issue," said Murphy.

But U.S. Soccer, in resolving a possible lawsuit, decided there is an issue. It's banning headers in players 10 and under and limiting them during practice for kids 11 to 13 on its teams and academies. It's recommending the rules for other associations. The president of KC Milan Soccer Club says it will follow them.

"I see too many kids that are struggling into adulthood because of concussions that occur when they are younger," said Jacques Tournoy.

Tournoy says coaches can easily wait to teach headers until the teen years when brains and necks are more developed. He recently saw some five-year-olds trying to learn.

"All it was was throwing the ball against their head, so that's not smart," he said.

Dr. Dana Brewington of Overland Park Regional Medical Center says the trouble with kids doing headers isn't just the immediate risk of concussion. There's also the cumulative effect.

"Over time, the more heading, even with a seemingly benign hit with the ball, potentially that could be dangerous as well," said the sports medicine specialist.

Some studies of adults have found brain abnormalities in those who played soccer growing up even though they did not recall having any concussions.

U.S. Soccer says more details of its guidelines will be released within thirty days. That may clear up confusion now about how heading will be limited for kids 11 to 13.