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Rochester Split On US Soccer "Heading Bans"

Abby Wambach in 2011, scoring a tying goal in the 122th minute of the World Cup game against Brazil.
Hannibal Hanschke
Abby Wambach in 2011, scoring a tying goal in the 122th minute of the World Cup game against Brazil.

In response to a class action lawsuit filed against them just over a year ago, the United States Soccer Federation has released a set of initiatives to address concerns about head injuries among young players. They tackle education, substituting, and return-to-play protocols for kids, but the most controversial part of the new guidelines are the so-called heading bans.

Players 10 years old and under will not be allowed to head the ball, and 11 to 13-year-olds won't be allowed to practice heading the ball. But in Rochester at least, these rules are facing some criticism, perhaps in part to hometown hero Abby Wambach, Pittsford native and professional soccer super star. Wambach built much of her career on her famous diving headers, a skill she began honing as a preteen.

Opponents to US Soccer's guidelines say, these bans will impede future Wambachs from dominating the sport.

George Herbert sees it differently. As president of the Rochester Youth Soccer league, he oversees more than five hundred teams. That's a lot of heads.

"It is going to put the players in a position where the coaches -- instead of trying to get them to head the ball -- will be able to get them to use other body parts. Legs, feet, chest perhaps to trap the ball."

Ultimately, he says honing these technical skills will help these younger kids become better players, and keep them safer in the meantime.

Although, how much safer is up for debate.

Doctor Katherine Rizzone says she doesn't know if the regulations will have the intended affect. She's an Assistant Professor of orthopedics at URMC, and she specializes in sports injuries, including concussions.

"You have to teach someone how to head the ball appropriately to avoid a concussion. So, you have the alternate argument that if you don't teach them appropriately how to move their, neck, how to take it on their head, that you're going to see increased rates."

Rizzone argues keeping kids from practicing headers might be doing the players a disservice. Instead, she argues for better coaching and education. She says parents can help by learning the symptoms of concussions and monitoring their kids' behavior during this kind of play.

The lawsuit brought against US Soccer cited nearly 50,000 high school players that suffered concussions during 2010.

Veronica Volk is a senior editor and producer for WXXI News.