The United States Soccer Federation has recently announced some changes that will limit the use of headers in youth soccer. The changes were made in connection with the settlement of a lawsuit. Attorney Dana Hooper from the Phoenix office of Greenberg Traurig, LLP, discusses the changes and what they will mean for soccer in the U.S. in this report.
Hooper explains that the change in the rules on heading affects both boys and girls, but only youth players. The new rule for players age ten and under is that they are not allowed to head the ball at all, in games or in practice. Players who are eleven through thirteen will be allowed to head the ball in games but not in practice.
The lawsuit that led to the changes was filed in California by a group of parents whose children played soccer. The parents expressed concern about head trauma to their children. The action was filed against the U.S. Soccer Federation and FIFA, among others. The plaintiffs were seeking class action status. As part of the settlement of the lawsuit, the soccer federation agreed to change the rules for those who fell under its jurisdiction and to recommend the changes to other groups. Hooper says that the lawsuit settlement will also involve rule changes having to do with substitutions with the goal of helping with the concussion protocols in the settlement.
Hooper says there are mixed opinions as to what precedent the new rules will have. Nine-year-old children are not typically doing much heading in soccer games, so there are people who feel that the changes will have no real effect on the game. Others feel that the ban on heading the ball will help deal with potential concussion problems. The problem, says Hooper, is that the science in this area is still evolving, and there is not a clear agreement that heading a soccer ball leads to concussions. People can get concussions in soccer games from being pushed and falling to the turf, or by getting elbowed in the head. Some soccer purists are not convinced that the new rules will fix anything.
As to possible future litigation, Hooper points out that “there’s no stopping a lawsuit.” People can sue with or without a lawyer. For example, someone could file a lawsuit to make it illegal to push in a soccer game. The fact that the soccer federation has settled one lawsuit will not stop people who might want to sue in the future.
Hooper opines that one possible consequence of the rule changes might be that American soccer players will grow up without the heading skills they might need to compete internationally. An eleven-year-old who is suddenly allowed to head the ball in games will not know how, and the new rule insures that youngsters will not be able to learn these skills in team practices. And, Hooper notes, “There is a proper technique. It can be taught at an early age if properly taught.” So it is possible that American soccer will suffer to some extent because young players will not know how to head the ball.
Dana L. Hooper is a shareholder in Greenberg Traurig, LLP in Phoenix, Arizona. She focuses her practice in the areas of employment law, commercial litigation, business matters, and sports law. She has a vast range of experience in litigation and client counseling in areas such as contracts, fiduciary duties, discrimination, harassment, wage and hour issues, torts, and collective and class actions. She is also certified as an athlete's agent and provides legal representation to sports-oriented individuals and businesses. The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of Sequence Media Group.