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Soccer Rules Changes 1580-2000

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Question Number: 33738

League Specific 10/27/2019

RE: Younger age groups including Comp Under 12

John Lubeck of Livermore, California United States asks...

With new concussion awareness bringing youth specific rules, we do not allow headers in U12 and below age groups. A header is supposed to result in and IDFK. I have chosen to not award and IDFK several times when, similar to a hand ball not being 'handling', a ball pops up and the only natural response seems to be to play it with the head. To avoid playing it with the head seems difficult and in all cases I deemed a 'low impact' ball. What would you recommend?

Answer provided by Referee Jason Wright

Hi John,
If the ball pops up next to a player's head and they then make a decision to head the ball that's up at head height, then this is still a deliberate decision to head the ball. In much the same way (and I use this example because you mentioned handling) that if the ball bounced up next to an arm and the player instinctively swatted the ball away, this is a foul.
Being an understandable reaction doesn't mean it isn't a foul.

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Answer provided by Referee Richard Dawson

Hi John,
it is true that balls at head height or perhaps a high lofting ball coming down will strike the head because it is in the way. Unless the impact is harsh one could allow play to continue . Drop ball if injury, INDFK ONLY if the player actively & deliberately sought to head it.
I have seen kids put their hands on their head to avoid it as well as catch it. I see then jumping trying to chest it and eating the ball. I believe if they CAN not use their head the use of their hands instead would be a good idea rather than duck out of the way. I get the safety due to concussion is why this rule exists but a simple nod on while chasing a bouncing ball is a very good soccer tactic for most players. I find it difficult to punish common sense . Cheers

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Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi John
The rule as I understand it refers to deliberate heading so like handling a ball that hits the head accidentally would not be penalised
However if the player is making a deliberate heading action then that should be called with the IDFK award.
Having said all that the reason USSF introduced the rule was for safety reasons for very young players by preventing the use of heading and the best way to do that is to call the IDFK once the players are making heading actions. Whether one agrees or not with the rule the offence has to be called to enforce it otherwise players just ignore it or it is seen as inconsistent if deliberate headers are not punished consistently. Referees will be seen as perhaps favoring no calls on the players who do this which will be seen as unfair and inconsistent.
For example the ball pops up in the penalty area and an attacker to use your phrase uses the natural response to use his to head to move the ball advantageously away from / past a defender to set up a goal.That probably would be called. To be consistent all deliberate heading action should be called with the exception of the accidental ones and those probably need to be stopped anyway as the ball hits the player on the head probably more forcefully than what a header would do.

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