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Head Injury Protocol

In December of 2015, US Soccer released information about their Recognize to Recover Campaign.  In that initial information, US Soccer’s Concussion Initiative Guidelines outlined recommendations for soccer organizations as well as describing what the protocols for the US Soccer Developmental Academy would be with regards to head injuries.   NorCal Premier will be following US Soccer’s lead with regards to our Head Injury Prevention and Treatment Guidelines.  In cases where we can, we will be following the same rules that are in place for the US Developmental Academy, and in all other cases we will be strongly encouraging clubs to take an active lead in the safety of their players.

Starting in the spring of 2016, NorCal implemented the following:

  • a no heading policy for all U11 and younger age groups
  • a “no re-entry” policy for players who are removed from a game due to a suspected head injury
  • a change to the NPL substitution rules to allow for the evaluation of head injuries

U11 No Heading Rule

To ensure that NorCal Premier is in line with the latest recommendation, we will be implementing a no heading rule for all U11 (2005 birth year this spring) and younger players.  NorCal Premier will also recommend that all clubs follow the US Soccer guidelines on heading in younger age groups.

Heading Recommendations:
For all players 10 and younger there should be no heading in training or games.  For players 11-13 years of age heading training should be limited to a maximum of 30 minutes per week with no more than 15-20 headers per player, per week.

Heading Game Rule:
When a player deliberately heads the ball in a game, an indirect free kick (IFK) should be awarded to the opposing team from the spot of the offense.  If the deliberate header occurs within the goal area (6 yard box), the indirect free kick should be taken on the goal area line parallel to the goal line at the point nearest to where the infringement occurred. If a player does not deliberately head the ball, then play should continue.

No Re-Entry Protocol

In accordance with the US Soccer return to play guidelines, any player removed from the field for a suspected head injury will not be allowed to return to the field of play unless cleared by a Healthcare Professional.  In practice this will mean that any player for whom a coach is called onto the field will have to leave the field and will not be allowed to return unless they are evaluated and cleared by a Certified Healthcare Professional.

Health Care Professionals:
US Soccer defines a Healthcare Professional as “a licensed health care professional such as an athletic trainer certified (ATC), or a physician (MD/DO), with a skill set in emergency care and sports medicine injuries and with knowledge and experience related to concussion evaluation and management.”  It will be up to each club to decide whether they will provide a health care professional at their matches, and to ensure that their health care professional has the correct certifications to be evaluating players for head trauma.  If a club plans to use a health care professional to evaluate suspected head injuries during a NorCal match, the health care professional must be presented to the referee prior to the start of the match.
*Referees will not allow the re-entry of players removed from the field of play for suspected head injuries unless they are informed of the presence of, and meet with a healthcare professional prior to the start of the match.

NPL Substitution Rule Change

NorCal Premier will amend the substitution rules in the National Premier League to mirror the change in rules in the USDA.

A substitution to remove a player suspected to have a head injury shall not count against the re-entry rules in the NPL.  Thus the player entering the game for the injured player may enter without it counting towards his/her re-entry count, and the player that has been removed may re-enter the game (if cleared by a healthcare professional) for the original substitute.

Responsibility of Clubs

Each NorCal club is ultimately responsible for their player’s health and safety, and should have a clear action plan in the case of all injuries.  US Soccer has laid out clear guidelines for clubs, along with resources (listed below), clubs who fail to act in the best interests of their players health and safety will be ultimately liable for their actions.  It is the strong recommendation of US Soccer and NorCal Premier that all clubs read the US Soccer Guidelines and ensure their club has clear action plans in place to protect players.  Clubs and Coaches will bear the liability for the safety of their players and need to have clear policies and protocols in place for the handling of all injuries.  Below we have provided resources for clubs to ensure that coaches are properly trained in how to recognize the signs of a concussion as well as execute a return to play procedure that will ensure that players are ready to return to competition.