Like other sports concerned about head injuries and concussions, soccer is about to get safer.
USA Soccer recently announced that heading the ball will be banned for youth ages 10 and younger. American Youth Soccer Organization, (AYSO) the governing body for 50,000 teams and more than half a million players ages 4 to 19, will be following the change.
“We have national policies and age-appropriate guidelines,” AYSO Area Director Lisa Mount of Herkimer said. “Head injuries are serious.”
Mount oversees an AYSO region of 19 municipalities, stretching north to Massena and Gouverneur, east to the Schenectady suburbs, south to Richfield Springs and west to Schuyler. “It’s not going to change (soccer) too much at those ages. It’s not until U10 that they even try (heading).”
At the higher levels of soccer heading is a big part of the game. Just ask Sauquoit Valley girls coach Tim Clive. His team was ranked No. 1 in the state most of the year and was undefeated until last weekend. Elmira Notre Dame, the Section IV champion, beat Sauquoit Valley 2-0 in a state quarterfinal game, the second goal being a header off a hard cross in the second half.
“The incidents of concussions have increased,” Clive said about sports. “It’s the same as (youth) football. They’re eliminating as much head contact as possible.”
Clive also coaches the varsity girls basketball team at Sauquoit Valley and knows that every sport has concerns about head injuries. “In basketball you see kids hit their head on the floor,” Clive said. “At Sauquoit we do pre-screening. Then they have a baseline.
“As far as younger kids, I don’t disagree (with the ruling). You only have one brain. The way they kick the (soccer) ball today, there’s some power! The ball is (sometimes) going 75 miles per hour.”
Clive thinks the change might work its way up to older ages in the near future. “If it does, players and coaches will adjust.” “It’s going to be (players) using their body more,” Clive said.
Poland boys soccer coach Greg Haver understands the concern but has another view of the situation. “One of my concerns is the sooner you learn how to head properly the sooner you’ll use good technique. If there’s going to be headers, and it’s a part of the game, you want the proper technique,” Haver said. “And I wonder if concussion headbands are coming down the road, just like shin guards.”
Other sports have added safety equipment through the years, in response to basic need. For example, baseball never even had helmets then added them, then made them bigger to protect the side of the head. Hockey goalies never even wore face masks and football players didn’t even wear helmets when the sport began.
Sometimes change is good. Any change that protects the health of young athletes is definitely good.