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The End of Headers? Soccer Stars Support Safety Campaign

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Soccer Safety Concerns For Young Players

A new campaign is issuing a “heads up” for soccer players and parents, asking players to keep their heads out of the game.

It’s called the PASS Campaign: Parents and Pros for Safer Soccer.

The campaign advises limiting headers until at least age 10, and ideally until high school at the age of 14.

Two concussion research and advocacy nonprofits–Sports Legacy Institute (SLI) and the Santa Clara University Institute of Sports Law and Ethics (ISLE)–are teaming up to create the campaign as a joint venture.

It’s also being headlined by former U.S. Women’s National Team soccer star Brandi Chastain, and former teammates Cindy Parlow Cone and Joy Fawcett. Chastain is best remembered for her game-winning goal for the U.S. in 1999. Now she’s a soccer-mom and coach who is backing the PASS campaign.

“As a professional, and now a parent and coach, I believe that the benefits of developing heading skills as children are not worth the thousands of additional concussions that youth soccer players will suffer,” Chastain, a two-time FIFA Women’s World Cup champion, said. “As a parent, I won’t allow my children to head the ball before high school, and as a coach I would prefer my players had focused solely on foot skills as they develop their love of the game. I believe this change will create better and safer soccer.”

Dr. Robert Cantu, the medical director of the Sports Legacy Institute, backs the program on the medical side.

“The youngster’s brain is much more vulnerable to injury than is the adult brain,” said Cantu, who has served as a concussion expert for NHL, NFL and NBA teams. “There are a number of studies in the literature now showing the effects of repetitive heading producing fibre tract abnormalities.”

In Connecticut, Hamden Soccer Association President Chris Ruggiero said he isn’t sold on the PASS concept. He oversees a group of 800 youth soccer players, including his own nine- and- thirteen-year-old daughters.

“We’ve done our own research however we have not found any conclusive evidence that would result in Hamden soccer implementing a policy against headers,” said Ruggiero.

He argues that headers aren’t even prominent in the game until players are at least twelve years old anyway.

But at least some medical evidence exists, according to Dr. Inam Kureshi, the director of the Head Injury Program at Hartford Hospital.

“With mounting evidence now, I think it’s a reasonable consideration, but I think it also has to be combined with other efforts in terms of education and preparation for these kids when they play as well as the parents,” said Kureshi.

While Hamden’s Soccer Association isn’t on board yet, another group called “Soccer Shots Connecticut” is banning headers among players age eight and under.

Ultimately, Ruggiero says head trauma concerns will only increase as more research comes out and more kids sign up to play soccer.

“I believe you’ll see more and more on this particular topic now that there’s more people getting involved and this one particular study where professional soccer players starting to endorse the studies,” Ruggiero said.

For more information on the PASS Campaign visit the safe soccer website.




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