Soccer players get a lot of flak for faking injuries, which is unfair because … actually, it’s not unfair at all. But that doesn’t mean that the game isn’t without its risks. Recent research has shown that soccer players have a surprisingly high incidence of concussions — so much so that the United States Soccer Federation has decided to ban children 10 and under from heading the ball and limited how often kids 11 to 13 can do it.
“The complete details of the initiative along with a more comprehensive player safety campaign will be announced by U.S. Soccer in the next 30 days,” the organization said in a press release, which gamely noted that the new protocols are the result of a class action lawsuit filed last year against U.S. Soccer and FIFA. The suit accused the organizations of negligence regarding head injuries and sought no monetary damages but rather rule changes to address parents’ concerns. No word on whether or not both sides lined up and shook hands after U.S. Soccer announced the changes.
The decision comes after a flurry of statistics showing that soccer may be less safe than previously thought, at least when it comes to head injuries. The New York Times cited a stat that “nearly 50,000 high school soccer players sustained concussions in 2010 — more players than in baseball, basketball, softball and wrestling combined.” It’s worth noting that CNN cites different research which claims that only about a third of soccer concussions are the result of heading; rough play is a far more common cause. That said, the total concussion rate has also risen over the past 9 years.
So even if a heading ban can cut a third of the head trauma suffered by young kids, that’d be a big step forward. Now, if FIFA can figure out a way to keep players from acting like they were shivved when grazed by an opposing player’s shoelace, then soccer might finally win over the rest of the country.