New rules for heading balls

U.S. Soccer resolved an ongoing lawsuit yesterday and agreed to strictly limit headers for youth players.

Players who are 10 years old and younger (so U11 and below) won’t be allowed to head the ball anymore. And players between the ages of 11 and 13 will have a soon-to-be-announced heading limit during practice.

These new regulations will be mandatory for U.S. Soccer youth national teams and academies, including Major League Soccer youth club teams, but the rules will be only recommendations for other soccer associations and development programs that are not under direct U.S. Soccer control.

I believe that this precaution is wise and won’t impact the game materially. Put pressure on your local league and club to follow the new U.S. Soccer guidelines.

Click here for my related post on concussions in soccer.

Author: James

Lifelong player and student of the beautiful game in Germany, England, and USA. Volunteer futsal coach and USSF referee.

4 thoughts on “New rules for heading balls”

  1. Ahhh, i was waiting for this post. While i have no disagreement on limiting heading in younger players (if for no other reason than to teach them to keep the ball on the ground and in control), this looks like a simple, obvious knee jerk reaction by US Soccer.

    Read the research paper – 69% of concussion in boys were from physical contact (elbows and shoulders hitting the head). Though it and other studies have found about 1/3 of soccer concussions are caused by heading the ball, so its still a large contributing factor. The point is they took a swipe at the thing that causes far fewer concussions and said nothing about the bigger issue – contact!

    So what “should” have US Soccer done instead of just banning heading the ball? Here are my thoughts:
    1. Ban certain types of heading only. For example, hard, high kicks by goalies where the ball is travelling at great speed as it falls from the air, and then is headed by a defender. Its pretty obvious just by watching that the head is getting whacked pretty hard. Alternatively allow headers from corner kicks only and teach more looping corner kicks vs hard, flat drives. My point is that i see mnay heaqders that are fine, and i see a few that are not – how do we differentiate between the two and teach the kids to do that and pick and choose when to head and when not to?
    2. I know the “some headers are OK and others are not” is hard to enforce and teach, but hey, coaches get paid the big bucks to figure that out. Its no different than teaching legal contact vs illegal.
    3. The bigger issue, by more than double, is contact between players. There was no comment on that and there shold have been. In general i (and others) see too much contact that is illegal (tackles from behind, charging, tripping, sweeping of legs, pushing, grabbing, etc). And that contact is not flagged at an early age and so becomes ingrained habit.
    4. Look at Rugby (which you posted about) – there is way more respect for referees, and much of that has to do with referees demanding that respect on the field. What do i mean? I see way too many (most) referees a) not talk to kids about their behaviour early enough in a game and b) allow kids to disrespect them by talking back, walking away when being talked to, using dismissive body and arm language, etc. And im talking about 8, 9 and 10 year olds!! US Soccer should be driving better respect of referees and enabling leagues and clubs to support referees in that process. And that in turn will allow referees to better enforce the rules of the game and reduce agressive play and contact, and as a result reduce concussions.

    Those are my thoughts…for what they are worth! 🙂



    1. My read of the situation, Andrew, is that adjusting the rules for youth soccer (and other sports) to take into account our growing understanding of concussions is still very much evolving. Reducing headers for youngsters is prudent and almost certainly won’t be the only change to address the risks of concussion. U.S. Soccer had to act on this specific heading issue (and announce it in isolation) because of the lawsuit, but more modifications to how youngsters train and play soccer are going to be announced in the near future. This might well include tighter rules to be enforced by referees as you suggest. And more referees need to be more confident about enforcing the laws of the game to prevent serious injuries, especially to youth players. As you say, even eight year old kids can play dirty as per my recent blog post on the red-carded boy. But in the final analysis, soccer is a contact sport played at high speed. Physical contact, both intentional and accidental, is simply part of the game and can’t be avoided. We can ‘take the edge off’ through rules modifications for youngsters, but some risk of (serious) injury will always remain.


  2. Great to see this step…however, USSF guilty again of not being clear enough…see the current confusion all over on the birth year change.

    I think all youth leagues and coaches will have to do this rather soon…as their legal liability would seem to me (as a non-expert) even greater now as it would be seen as ignoring very clear guidance on the subject.
    I imagine it will be spring before we see it in action still.
    it will be hard for kids used to heading the ball (typically on throwins at our age level)…there’s a rare header for goal and also somewhat rare header of punted balls (which really should be avoided).
    fortunately, most of our team’s players (wisely) use their feet for playing those balls still.


    1. I agree, Mark. This is still very much evolving and we’ll probably see more announcements on this and related topics, including other modifications to how youth train and play.


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