US Youth Soccer to Undergo Sweeping Rule Changes in Lieu of Concussion Litigation

This past Monday, November 9, 2015, the US Soccer Federation, one of the governing bodies of youth soccer leagues across the nation, announced a new safety initiative it intends to put into play to help combat concussions and related injuries among America’s younger players. The announcement comes as a final step in a long, drawn out legal battle by concerned parents to limit the potential risks children face playing one of the more popular youth sports.

US Soccer Federation made the announcement Monday in response to a putative class action filed in California federal court in 2014 for concussion injuries to minors playing soccer, similar to those suits currently facing the NFL, NHL, WWE, and NCAA. The lawsuit, which was dismissed in July 2015, originally named FIFA, the international head of soccer across the globe, as a party as well — however, District Court Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton threw the suit out under the theory that no personal jurisdiction existed over the Swiss soccer body.

Even though it was dismissed, the case received enough media attention for US Soccer Federation to opt to update its concussion protocol and to provide for safer guidelines for youth soccer participants. Limiting headers was an issue at the forefront of the litigation, and under the new rules, no child under the age of 10 will be allowed to head the ball either in practice or in an actual game. Further, children playing in the 11-13 age group will be limited to only heading the ball minimally and in certain situations while practicing. These age groups were specifically addressed by the plaintiffs, as players who have already suffered a concussion are more susceptible to future brain injury, so targeting the youngest players is the first step in eradicating these types of injuries in sport.

Other pieces to the safety initiative that were announced include: improving concussion awareness/education for parents, players, coaches and referees; uniform concussion protocols across the various youth leagues; and modification to substitution rules to help get players experience possible concussion symptoms off the field.

These changes will be mandatory for all US Soccer youth national teams and academies, but will only be recommendations for other soccer associations and development programs.

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