The heading ban -- how refs should respond

By Mike Woitalla

Last year, the U.S. Soccer Federation announced a ban on heading for players age 10 and younger. Last week, the U.S. Soccer Referee program sent out a memo on how the rule should be implemented:

“When a player deliberately heads the ball in a game, an indirect free kick (IFK) should be awarded to the opposing team from the spot of the offense. If the deliberate header occurs within the goal area, the indirect free kick should be taken on the goal area line parallel to the goal line at the point nearest to where the infringement occurred. If a player does not deliberately head the ball, then play should continue.”

Further Reading: U.S. Soccer Concussion Guidelines  (includes "Concussion Fact Sheet for Coaches" download)

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U.S. U-17s girls down England and South Korea

The U.S. U-17 girls national team will win the 2016 U-17 NTC Invitational in Carson, Calif., with a victory or tie against Japan on Monday thanks to 2-0 victories over South Korea on Saturday and England on Thursday.

The Colorado Rush’s Civana Kuhlmann scored twice in the last eight minutes in the win over England. She was assisted by Real Colorado’s Jaelin Howell on an 82nd minute strike and Cal Blues' Kennedy Wesley in the 87th minute.

Wesley, along with Jordan Canniff (Richmond United) and defender Kate Wiesner (Slammers FC), is one of three 14-year-olds (2001s) in Coach B.J. Snow's 20-player squad, which is preparing for the 2016 Concacaf U-17 Women's Championship in Grenada March 3-13.

The top three teams from the Concacaf championship will qualify for the 2016 U-17 Women's World Cup in Jordan Sept. 30-Oct. 21. 1999-born players comprise the majority of Snow's roster, while five are 2000s.

In the 2-0 win over South Korea, Real Colorado’s Sophia Smith, with a tap-in on a pass from Tophat’s Rachel Jones, and Karina Rodriguez (So Cal Blues), with a volley off a cross from Sydney Zandi (Penn Fusion), struck first-half goals.

In the NTC Invitational’s other games, Japan tied England, 1-1, and beat South Korea, 5-0.

The USA-Japan game will streamed live at Monday at 6 p.m. ET.

Feb. 13 in Carson, California
USA 2 South Korea 0. Goals: Smith (Jones) 13, Rodriguez (Zandi) 25.
USA -- Beall, Wesley (Spaanstra, 77), Rodriguez, Girma (Smith, 45), Rodriguez (Weisner, 45 Zandi ( Torres, 63) Howell, Pinto (Tagliaferri, 57), Jones, 3- Smith (Canniff, 45), Sanchez.
South Korea -- Kim Yealin (Bang Mirae, 88), Kang Jiwoo, Kim Jinhui (Kang Taekyung, 45), Sim Seohui (Im Sojeong, 45), Eom Keunbyeol, Mok Seungyeon (Kim Soeun, 45), Kim Hyeju, Gwon Huiseon (Jung Minyoung, 45), Choi Jeongmin (Kang Chaerim, 86), Mun Eunju, Han Juri.
Referee: Ceciah Valero (USA)

Feb. 11 in Carson, California
USA 2 England 0. Goals: Kuhlmann (Howell) 82, Kuhlmann (Wesley) 87.
USA -- Ivory, Rodriguez (Smith, 45), Girma, Rodriguez (Weisner 65), Spaanstra, Torres (Tagliaferri, 70), Zandi (Howell, 65), Pinto, Sanchez (Jones, 65), Smith (Wesley, 45), Kuhlmann.
England -- Roebuck, Allen, Pattern, Wubben Mov, Hinds, Olding, Hooper, Cain (Toone, 69), Charles (Brazil, 85), Stanway, Filbev.
Referee: Reyna Fonseca (USA).

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Roster: U.S. Club's id2 Spain tour

Eighteen players from 18 clubs were named to Coach Gerry McKeown's squad for the 2016 id2 National Selection International Tour to Spain Feb. 20-March 2. The team, comprised of 16 players born in 2002 and two in 2003, will face their counterparts in the youth programs of Valencia, Villarreal, Espanyol and Barcelona.

The two 2003s are midfielders Daniel Edelman and Thomas Musto.

2016 id2 National Selection
Goalkeepers: Charlton Alonso (Paramus, N.J./World Class FC), Gandhi Cruz (Aurora, Ill./Chicago Magic PSG.)
Defenders: Erik Centeno (Stockton, Calif./Earthquakes-East Valley FC), Ryan Hikida (Issaquah, Wash./Issaquah SC), Bryang Kayo (Montgomery Village, Md./Bethesda-Olney), Matthew Owusu (Finksburg, Md./Baltimore Celtic SC), Derrick Silva (Tucson, Ariz./Tanque Verde SC), Luis Toledo (Longmont, Colo./FC Boulder), Andrew Tong (Chelmsford, Mass./GPS Massachusetts).
Midfielders: Jack de Vries (Wayne, Pa./Philadelphia Union), Daniel Edelman (Warren, N.J./PDA), Max Goeggel (San Francisco/Ballistic United SC), Wyatt McCarthy (New York, N.Y./Manhattan SC), Thomas Musto (Makawao, Hawaii/Surf Hawaii SC), Nicola Rosamilia (Roseland, N.J./Ironbound SC)
Forwards:Cameron Dunbar (Chula Vista, Calif./Albion SC), Kawika Kelii (Waianae, Hawaii/Maui United SC), Alfredo Moran Loera (Chula Vista, Calif./Surf SC.)

Head Coach: Gerry McKeown (Summit, N.J.). Assistant Coach: Jim Barlow (Montgomery, N.J.), Goalkeeper Coach: Matt Bernard (Folsom, Calif.), Head of Delegation: Tim Lesiak (Maineville, Ohio). (U.S. Soccer Technical Advisor Todd Saldana will accompany the group.)

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Around the Net: Government launches synthetic turf safety study

SAN FRANISCO CHRONICLE: The Obama administration has announced a multi-agency federal study to look into the safety of recycled tire material used on synthetic turf fields.

"We know people are concerned about artificial turf fields, and players and their families want answers,”  said EPA spokeswoman Laura Allen. “Limited studies have not shown an elevated health risk from playing on fields with tire crumb, but the existing studies do not comprehensively evaluate the concerns about health risks from exposure.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry at the Centers for Disease Control will carry out the study.

The Synthetic Turf Council, an industry group, said in a statement it hoped the new study would “settle this matter once and for all.” US to mount multiagency study of health risks of synthetic turf

38 comments about "The heading ban -- how refs should respond".
  1. Bob Ashpole, February 15, 2016 at 4:22 p.m.

    I think this is a stupid rule change. It would be better to teach players how to head safely. So, now are coaches going to start training players more to strike with their shoulders and chests? Will we be seeing more bicycle and other high kicks? I was no great player, but could easily kick balls at head height. If players can't use their heads, they are going to use their feet. I think a foot in the face is more dangerous than heading.

  2. don Lamb replied, February 21, 2016 at 12:43 p.m.

    Everything at the U10 level should be focused on playing with the ball on the ground -- specifically dribbling and passing. Shooting/ball striking should not be a priority either at this age. We should not be teaching heading technique to 9 year olds because it deemphasizes the most important parts of technical development.

  3. Bob Ashpole, February 15, 2016 at 4:23 p.m.

    I was going to add that if players cannot legally head the ball, is there any such thing as a high kick left?

  4. Doug Andreassen, February 15, 2016 at 8:21 p.m.

    This rule change is about player safety. There is no need to risk brain damage to youth in any contact sports. This rule change will not only make the game safer for youth, it will dramatically improve the player skills by keeping the ball at the feet and not in the air, where it simply becomes a 50/50 ball. If injuries mount from high kicks, that will be taken into effect when the time comes.

  5. Ric Fonseca replied, February 17, 2016 at 4:37 p.m.

    Doug, I agree that it is about player safety, however, I feel it would go even further if kids U10 would not play tackle football, or ice hockey, or field hockey, but to all of a sudden to change a rule to charge a player with an IFK, is going to only further confuse players, and pray tell, how will they react when they begin to play up beyond 11 years of age? They will more than likely not have any heading skills.

  6. don Lamb replied, February 21, 2016 at 12:46 p.m.

    Can they not learn heading skills at 11 and 12 year of age? We should not be producing finished products at 11 years old -- we should be producing players who are good dribblers, decent passers, and who have mastered the basic playing principles of the 3v3 environment.

  7. Bob Ashpole, February 16, 2016 at 12:37 a.m.

    Doug, you and many others have bought into a myth. In the senior game the fundamental tactical premise is to play the ball as quickly as possible--meaning before it hits the ground, not waiting for it to settle. Having players keep the ball on the ground is not going to develop the passing and first touch skills that U14s ought to have. IMO starting off youth players with senior possession-style play is a mistake. They need to learn fundamental skills before they learn team tactics. Trying to jump start the development process by teaching youth possession style team tactics is not going to work.

  8. Doug Andreassen replied, February 16, 2016 at 8:11 p.m.

    Thanks Bob. I always appreciate another viewpoint and a well-constructed discussion. Perhaps somewhere in between is the compromise. What we do know is that repetitive hits to the youth, are causing long term damage in many aspects. How we work around that, will be the next question. For now USSF medical committee has chosen to take this prudent stop-gap measure to ensure safety.

  9. Bob Ashpole replied, February 16, 2016 at 10:29 p.m.

    Doug unless something has changed in the last two months, scientists don't know that. As Ginger said below, it is not heading the ball that is the problem that drives the rule change, but concussions caused by contact with other player's elbows and heads. There is no evidence that the rule change will reduce injuries, just a speculative hope. This rule making is similar to Congress passing the 55 mph speed limit in the 70s. It was acting, but there was no evidence that the limit would or did reduce gas consumption. Fleet gas mileage regulations, in contrast, did work to reduce gas consumption.

  10. Ginger Peeler, February 16, 2016 at 10:05 a.m.

    You can teach the kids how to head the ball safely. The real danger comes when 2 players go up to head the ball and knock can result in a concussion. At this age, it's my understanding that the brain isn't yet fully developed; nor is the brain case. Isn't it better to err on the side of caution for the safety of our children?

  11. Doug Andreassen replied, February 16, 2016 at 8:13 p.m.

    Agreed, err on the side of caution. Both the brain and the skull are not fully developed until the late teens, until then lets help save our kids.

  12. Chris Worthley, February 16, 2016 at 10:07 a.m.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but my understanding is that US Soccer recommended that we not allow/teach heading to players under 11 - they did not mandate it. If it is not a rule, referees should not be calling a foul when it occurs.......

  13. Ginger Peeler, February 16, 2016 at 10:09 a.m.

    When my kids were playing in the 80s and early 90s, high kicks were considered dangerous play and were called as fouls. Has that changed?

  14. Bob Ashpole replied, February 16, 2016 at 10:35 p.m.

    That is the point I was making. If players cannot legally play the high balls with their head, then it is not reckless or careless to play high balls with the foot. I am sure the intent of the rule change was not to allow players to "block" the ball with their heads and claim that the ball struck the head rather than the head struck the ball.

  15. Ginger Peeler replied, February 17, 2016 at 11:50 a.m.

    High kicks were considered "dangerous play"...

  16. Bob Ashpole replied, February 17, 2016 at 1:56 p.m.

    We are talking about the same thing. Reckless play is yellow card play.

  17. Ginger Peeler, February 16, 2016 at 10:19 a.m.

    This action by US Soccer is the result of a lawsuit. These are not recommendations, they are the new rules: no heading for children 10 and under; limited heading for children 11 to 13.

  18. Bob Ashpole replied, February 17, 2016 at 2:15 p.m.

    This is exactly the problem. Nobody has tested the rule change before implementation to see what happens to the injury rate. There could be unintended negative consequences. Heading allows players to knock high balls down to the ground. USSF is taking that away from the game.

  19. Chris Worthley, February 16, 2016 at 10:23 a.m.

    From US Soccer's Concussions Guidelines:

    A. U.S. Soccer Recommendations
    1. U11 and younger.
    a. U.S. Soccer recommends that players in U11 programs and younger shall not engage in heading, either in practices or in games.
    2. U12 and U13.
    a. U.S. Soccer further recommends for players in U12 and U13 programs, that heading training be limited to a maximum of 30 minutes per week with no more that 15-20 headers per player, per week.
    3. All coaches should be instructed to teach and emphasize the importance of proper techniques for heading the ball.
    B. Implementing Members
    1. The Implementing Members accept the recommendations of U.S. Soccer set forth in item A. above and recommend that each of their respective members follow such recommendations as well.

    These are not rules, these are recommendations. US Soccer encourages all members to adopt these "recommendations", but nowhere does it state these are changes to the laws of the game.

  20. Ric Fonseca replied, February 17, 2016 at 4:43 p.m.

    Chris, you've got a point, however, who is going to count the number of heading the ball the kids will engage or make? The coach will have his hands full, what with having a perennial clipboard or tablet to note how many heads Charlie and Johnny and Mario took during practice. While it may be a "recommendation," I've seen recommendations be co-opted and subsummed into a rule change, etc.

  21. Ginger Peeler, February 16, 2016 at 11:44 a.m.

    You're right Chris. They are recommendations, but must be followed by some. Specifically;
    "Are the new rules regarding substitutions, elimination of heading for U-10 and below, and limiting heading in practice for ages 11 to 13 going to be required changes?
    These changes are recommended for U.S. Soccer’s youth members. Although these are only recommendations, they are based on the advice of the U.S. Soccer medical committee, and therefore U.S. Soccer strongly urges that they be followed.
    On the other hand, these are requirements for players that are part of U.S. Soccer’s Youth National Teams and the Development Academy. It should be noted that Youth National Teams will continue to be bound by the substitution rules of the events in which they participate."

  22. Ginger Peeler, February 16, 2016 at 11:47 a.m.

    And: "Why are the new rules not required for U.S. Soccer’s youth members?

    For the youth members, these are framed as recommendations because some of the youth members do not have direct authority at the local level to require the adaption of the rules. But, these recommendations are based on the advice of the U.S. Soccer medical committee, and therefore U.S. Soccer strongly urges that they be followed. Organizations, leagues, clubs and teams should also be aware that each of the 50 states has passed some form of concussion education and management legislation, so they must be sure to comply with these laws in their respective states."

  23. Chris Worthley, February 16, 2016 at 12:03 p.m.

    Thanks Ginger, I have read all that information as well. My concern is that the referees appear to be being told that these are rules and that they should be calling infractions if they see a player under 11 heading a ball - when in fact this may not be the case. As a club administrator, we will follow the new guidelines to protect our players and ourselves. Although, I still believe that teaching proper heading technique can occur with younger players. As noted in a previous comment, most concussion occur from physical contact (either with an opponent, a teammate, or the ground) not from actually heading the ball. There will still be contact made between players even without heading in the game - the increased concussion awareness is the greatest gain from all this.

  24. Bob Ashpole, February 16, 2016 at 10:46 p.m.

    I think people are confusing apples and oranges. The heading ban for ages 10 and below is not a recommendation. In matches the opponent will be awarded a free kick.

  25. Ginger Peeler replied, February 17, 2016 at 12:08 p.m.

    Bob, check out the "Further Information" link in the article. It covers the recommendations...then read the "Q and A" section. It's a rule for some and a recommendation for others. The article written in this posting by Mike Woitalla sounds as if heading is to be called by ALL refs, even if it's not a rule in a given league. I can't see how that will work. I guess the refs will be directed not to call heading in the leagues where heading is allowed.

  26. Bob Ashpole replied, February 17, 2016 at 1:59 p.m.

    The USSF controls USSF matches, but a lot of clubs only register their travel teams. So a lot of lower level matches are technically not controlled by USSF, even though the clubs may be affiliated. That is why you see the recommendation language.

  27. Bob Ashpole replied, February 17, 2016 at 2:02 p.m.

    I want to add that both teams must be affiliated for a match to be considered a sanctioned match.

  28. Ginger Peeler, February 17, 2016 at 12:36 p.m.

    One other thing...when my daughter's team was learning heading, they found that it hurt if they were holding still or backing up as they passively took the hit on their head. But it didn't hurt when they were moving toward the ball as it hit their forehead. I've seen woozy kids when they've inadvertently taken a ball to the head. I think those hits could also cause brain damage. Some kids are afraid to head and they could be hurt. By teaching heading to young kids, some are going to want to do it in a game. Or in scrimmages in practice. So, 2 young players going up for a ball in practice bang heads and one ends up with a concussion. If this happens in a league mandating no headers, the coach may well be facing a lawsuit. I believe that there are certain kinds of pitches that young baseball players are not allowed to learn and throw until they reach a certain age because it's harmful to their arms or shoulders while their bodies are still growing. Again, let's err on the side of caution and safety for our kids.

  29. Doug Andreassen replied, February 18, 2016 at 10:55 a.m.

    Again the discussion comes down to erring on the side of caution.When we introduced the concussion initiatives 9 years ago, we assumed parents would make the choices in regards to their children. What turned out to be reality was coaches were not adhering to the concerns of medical results from CTE in regards to youth. New evidence is occurring on a regular basis regarding CTE in youth. The time has come to take the precautions. If parents are educated on the issue and continue to believe their respective contact sport is safe, then let the decision stand. We are now finding that parents are making educated decisions.

  30. Ric Fonseca, February 17, 2016 at 4:53 p.m.

    Interesting takes on this aspect and integral part of the game. Recently, my son who literally grew up with the sport, my wife used to take him see my practice sessions and games when he was but months old, told me that given the new protocols being introduced by the soccer-gurus, and also involving the biggest perpetrator of concussion, american football, he remembers getting banged on the head by an opponent quite a few times when the ball wasn't even within ten meters, and he's sure that he was probably concussed playing club, high school college, and recreationaly. Imagine my reaction, my heart skipped a beat, and when I asked him why he didn't tell me then, he gave me the standard answer, that he was playing a physical sport. So, I do empathize with parents today, however, I feel that this recommendation will somehow, some time soon, will be incorporated by US Soccer, yet it will not be added to the LoG, nor the IBD will even consider it.

  31. Bob Ashpole, February 18, 2016 at 3 p.m.

    Ric, I had a similar experience with a son/keeper and a broken hand. He finished the match and didn't tell me about the injury for 10 years. Stubborn misguided machismo. I wonder where he gets it. One problem with head injuries is that the player may not realize he is injured and he may continue to play normally. I have a friend from high school tell me that he blanked on a whole series, and he was the offensive center needing to hear the plays called in the huddle and hiking the ball to start each play. I personally had an occasion when I didn't remember coming back to the huddle after being tackled. I felt fine and functioned normally although it turned out I had a broken collar bone. Finished the game and then went for treatment for the collar bone, but never told anyone about the black out.

  32. Ric Fonseca replied, February 21, 2016 at 4:18 p.m.

    Bob, when I took my first of two USSF Coaching courses from Dettmar Cramer in '71 and '72, I vividly remember Coach Cramer literally take us one by one and instructed us how to teach proper heading, not so much for the youth players, but how to correct grown/adult players on the proper heading procedure. And when we got to the part on how to teach players U10, I remember how adamant he was that the process or heading technique must start slowly, and we didn't even teach actual kids that were brought in for the demonstrations, until we, the teachers mastered the proper heading technique, as he called it. And then several years later, when was the Course coordinator in 78, 79, 80, and 81, in the LA area, the same process was introduced and ALL of us had to go through the technique, and although we didn't have some youth teams, the candidates acted as kids, while others were the teachers and vice-versa. And I must add that when my son and daughter started with ayso k-league (back in the early 80's and later in club), I was very fortunate to use what I learned, that even many parents who did not want their children to head the ball, instead I invited the parents to attend one of our "practice" sessions and I even encouraged some parents to try heading the ball. At first I used balloons, then nerf balls, graduating to a size 3, then 4, finally 5 balls. My training sessions ALWAYS involved heading, even in college where some of my recent recreational players trying out, did not even know how to head properly; then try and convince a local former high school, Latino player or someone else from Europe, that their heading technique sucked... Anyway, I am sure you get my many-faceted points, right?

  33. Bob Ashpole replied, February 21, 2016 at 7:56 p.m.

    Right. Limiting the force of and number of impacts is common sense. That is how I coached too. You don't train martial arts by striking the student's heads repeatedly either.

  34. Big Dad, February 18, 2016 at 11:41 p.m.

    This is a bad decision. 3 of my children have playing high level competitive soccer for a number of years. Between my kids, I have likely watched or coached( U/10 and under ) hundreds of games. I have been witness to about 10 concussions. I can only remember 1 that was caused in the process of heading the ball. The lone "header related"cause was not the ball but from two players both trying to head the ball.
    US Soccer is just trying to say they are "taking a stand". The NFL is trying to prevent concussions right?LOL
    Heading to Arizona this weekend for a youth tournament. Just learned that headers are banned at U11. Sweet...lots of high kicks, games likely won by the teams that are best at set plays off indirect free kicks.
    Yup SON, jump out of the way of the ball for the next 6 months...then it will be OK to head the ball once the entire age group turns 11.
    US soccer is delusional.

  35. don Lamb replied, February 21, 2016 at 12:58 p.m.

    How about teaching him to bring the ball out of the air and down to the ground using his chest, thigh, or foot. If the ball is going in a line drive, let the ball pass and put yourself in a good position for the next play (either retreat to defend, or open up to present an attacking option).

  36. Ric Fonseca replied, February 21, 2016 at 4:24 p.m.

    TO DON, good suggestion Don, but you don't indicate if the ball is coming at head or chest height, if at chest high, then the ball must be "killed" with proper technique to have the ball literary drop at the feet, then again, if the ball is coming off a well-placed shot on goals or from a dead ball situation and directly to a defensive wall. And all of this MUST be done faster than a NY minute, more like a NY second, with the player having the presence of mind to make sure he/she and their team will maintain possession.

  37. don Lamb, February 22, 2016 at 12:59 p.m.

    Right, I will further clarify the point about how to handle a line drive by saying that we should not be telling 10 year olds to block a shot with their head. If a goal is scored, so be it. Dig it out, and go score one of your own. But do not use your head to block a shot or driven ball -- simple as that.

  38. Big Dad, February 22, 2016 at 11 p.m.

    After watching about a half dozen high level games at the Blackhawk tournament, I have the following observations of the crappy soccer I witnessed:
    1) Header ban = direct soccer. Send long balls all day long at the back line. Since defenders cant clear with the head, they must chest trap or volley. Overload the box on attack, win ball after CB traps it and shoot.
    2)Forwards launching flying karate kicks at the GK and defenders. Can't head it, so flying volley at the GK chest was common. Ref's have no zero consistency with calls on headers. Most call unintentional headers as header fouls.
    3) Indirect free kicks plentiful and determine the games outcome frequently. Can't defend out of air with head so send runners and execute the flying karate kick volley.
    4) Refs not calling high kick fouls. this seemed consistent amongst most refs.
    5) Crappy soccer is now the norm
    6) U11 this for 6 months then carry can head again. Thank you US soccer for saving the kids from harm HAHAHA

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