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Heads Up

The biggest soccer organization in the U.S. introduces new rules to make the sport safer.

Many youth leagues are playing under new safety rules. In November, the U.S. Soccer Federation announced that players on its teams who are 10 or younger are no longer allowed to head the ball. Players ages 11 to 13 have limits on how often they can practice heading.

The new rules are designed to prevent kids from getting concussions—injuries caused by a blow to the head that shakes the brain inside the skull. Common symptoms include headaches and dizziness. Severe concussions can lead to permanent brain damage.

A DANGEROUS MOVE

Heading the ball can be one of the riskiest parts of soccer. Sometimes the force of hitting the ball with their heads gives players concussions. But more often, players receive concussions when they jump to head the ball and accidentally knock heads with other players or fall and hit their heads on the turf.

“More concussions happen during the act of heading than any other action in soccer,” explains Dr. Robert Cantu, an expert on brain injuries.

LEADING THE WAY

So far, the new rules apply only to teams that are part of the U.S. Soccer Federation. But the group says it hopes other leagues will soon follow its example.

Former U.S. soccer star Brandi Chastain is one of the leaders of the campaign to ban heading in youth soccer. She applauds the rule change but wants the ban extended to all players under 14. Last month, Chastain showed her commitment to learning more about the effects of heading when she pledged to donate her brain to science after she dies.

“If there’s any information to be gleaned [gathered] off the study of someone like myself, who has played soccer for 40 years, it feels like my responsibility,” Chastain told The New York Times.

Photo courtesy Tim Macpherson/Cultura/AgeFotostock.com

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