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Sports

New U.S. Soccer rules take youth players' heads out of the game

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For thousands of youth soccer players nationwide, including those playing on dozens of teams here in Western New York, the rules are changing, with the practice of "heading" the ball being removed.

In response to a lawsuit filed last year in California, U.S. Soccer - the organization which oversees the world's most popular sport within this nation - is banning heading for players ages 10 and younger. Heading will be limited to practices for players ages 11 to 13.

It's a move designed to curb head injuries, specifically concussions. It's the number one injury for female soccer players, and research over the years has unveiled a wealth of information about the dangers of returning a player to game action too soon after suffering the brain injury.

One local expert says there's more research that still needs to be done to get a better understanding of long-term effects.

"There are suggestive studies but nothing definitive. We need prospective long-term control trials to define whether repeated concussions have any significant lasting effects on young kids," said Dr. John Leddy, Professor of Clinical Orthopaedics at the University at Buffalo. "Those trials haven't been done."

News of the policy change by US Soccer came as little surprise to Peter Veltri, the head coach of women's soccer at Niagara University and a coach within the Niagara Pioneer youth soccer program. He supports the change.

"I've never been a supporter of heading, at least that constant motion," Veltri said to WBFO. "I believe in teaching it, but I don't believe in that repetition of just standing there and heading the ball. I believe heading is something that you can teach at a later age."

Veltri, who previously played college and semi-pro soccer, noted that he didn't develop his own heading skills until about the age of 13 or 14.

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