By Robbie Owens

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FRISCO (CBSDFW.COM) – A lawsuit over concussions could lead to big changes in youth soccer. The U.S. Soccer Federation is now recommending a ban on headers for players 10 and under, with limits for those between 11 and 13.

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Making the sport safer, though, may not be a simple task. Many parents say most of the injuries they’ve experienced had nothing to do with heading, but rather involved players colliding.

“It’s part of the game,” says Trey Hoegenauer, “it’s part of the game internationally- and if we’re going to remain or try to be competitive on the international level, then we can’t exclude that portion of our training from an early age.”

Hoegenauer has worn many hats on the soccer field—Dad, Coach, and now Commissioner for the Home School Athletic Association. So he does not dismiss the concussion risk. “I’m concerned. I’ve seen enough first hand, that I don’t take it lightly. Still, he believes that protective head gear for players is a better route than an outright ban. “I don’t think we can legislate all injuries out of sports. Soccer is the leading cause of ACL tears. But, it’s part of the sport.”

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Mark Barisa, PhD, ABPP, still believes that the header ban will make the sport safer for young athletes. “Typically, heading does not cause concussions. But, bringing heading into the game can result in head to head contact: where you have got two athletes going up at the same time: that creates that collision—the head to head contact–that can be a danger.”

Dr. Barisa, Director of Neuropsychology at Baylor Institute for Rehabilitation, has spent the past two decades studying the human brain. “We’re making our kids better athletes… with that, though, brain is still developing at the same rate… the brain is still vulnerable to injury.” So he recommends an approach to the concussion risk that falls somewhere between apathy and panic. “Where we run into difficulty is where we have hit upon hit upon hit, before they fully recover… that’s where we can get some devastating and long standing effects.”

So Dr. Barisa says he also supports the US Soccer Federation recommendation that medical professionals rather than coaches decide whether players suspected of having a concussion can return to the game.
Still, parents like Hoegenauer admit that even the best of protective measures will have limits. “Injuries occur falling out of trees. Do we legislate the height of trees? There’s an element of risk that we take as parents, and we protect our kids as best we can.”

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