NAYS supports Safer Soccer campaign to ban heading until high school
United States soccer legends Kristine Lilly and Julie Foudy, men’s star Taylor Twellman, decorated women’s national team coach Tony DiCicco and a dozen concussion researchers and clinicians headline a list – that includes the National Alliance for Youth Sports – of the latest soccer, medical and youth sports experts to announce their support of the Safer Soccer campaign.
Launched in 2014 by the Sports Legacy Institute (SLI) and the Santa Clara University Institute of Sports Law and Ethics (ISLE), the goal of the campaign is to educate parents, coaches and the soccer community that delaying heading until age 14 or high school would eliminate the No. 1 cause of concussions in middle school soccer and is in the best interest of youth soccer players.
The new supporters join women’s soccer legends Brandi Chastain, Cindy Parlow Cone and Joy Fawcett, along with concussion expert and SLI co-founder Dr. Robert Cantu.
“The act of attempting to head a soccer ball causes nearly one out of three concussions in middle school,” said Cantu. “This rule change would prevent more than 30,000 concussions a year in adolescents at a critical time in their brain development.”
“Safer Soccer is part of the legacy I want to leave for the game,” said Chastain, whose penalty kick clinched the 1999 World Cup championship and who is now a coach and mother of a soccer player. “I do not want my players, or my own children, heading the ball before 14, both for their brain health and also so that we can focus our time on foot skills, which are far more important for their soccer development. For players under 14, no headers are a no brainer.”
Current guidelines from US Soccer recommend introducing headers at age 10, although many coaches start earlier. Scientific research on concussions has grown rapidly in recent years and helped lead to rules changes in sports like hockey, football and baseball.
“Given the scientific evidence, this has become more than just an ethical question,” said Ron Katz of the Santa Clara Institute of Sports Law and Ethics. “In my opinion, it implicates the laws in effect to protect young children who are in no position to protect themselves.”
The campaign website, SaferSoccer.org, links to a White Paper where supporting research can be found. Safer Soccer supporters are participating in a social media campaign with the hashtag #NoHeaderNoBrainer, and are posting pictures and videos with their soccer jerseys reversed backwards, to raise awareness that the guidelines for headers should be reversed.
“It’s imperative that as volunteer coaches, parents and administrators we do everything possible to help keep young athletes safe,” says John Engh, chief operating officer of NAYS. “We are proud to support the Safer Soccer initiative that promotes safety without affecting the quality of the participants’ experiences.”
Concussion experts supporting the campaign include:
Robert Cantu, MD – SLI Medical Director, Prof. of Neurosurgery, Boston University
Laura Balcer, MD – Vice-Chair of the Dept. of Neurology, NYU Langone Medical Center
Jeffrey T. Barth, PhD – Prof., Director, Brain Injury and Sports Concussion Institute, University of Virginia School of Medicine
Jill Brooks, PhD – Clinical Neuropsychologist
Kevin Crutchfield, MD - Director, Comprehensive Concussion Program, LifeBridge Health
David Dodick, MD – Neurologist, Director, Concussion & Headache Programs, Mayo Clinic
Steve Galetta, MD – Chair of the Dept. of Neurology, NYU Langone Medical Center
Dorothy Kozlowski, PhD – Prof., Dept. of Biological Sciences, DePaul University; President, Chicago Society for Neuroscience
Leonard V. Messner, OD – Prof. and Vice President for Patient Care Services, Illinois College of Optometry
Jeff Mjaanes, MD – Director of Chicago Sports Concussion Clinic at Rush
Carl Nissen, MD – Prof., UConn School of Medicine, Connecticut Children's Medical Center
Willie Stewart, MD – Neuropathologist, Southern General Hospital, Glasgow, Scotland
About Safer Soccer:
Cindy Parlow Cone
The Safer Soccer campaign was launched in 2014 to raise awareness of the risks of heading the ball in soccer before age 14. Founding organizations include the Santa Clara University Institute of Sports Law (law.scu.edu/sportslaw) and the Sports Legacy Institute (SLI), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that was founded to solve the concussion crisis (SportsLegacy.org, Facebook, Twitter). Learn more at SaferSoccer.org.
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