In a settlement announced on Monday by Hagens Berman, a law firm that represented youth players in a class action lawsuit against six the largest youth soccer groups, U.S. players who are aged 10 and under will no longer be able to head the ball, while players aged 11 through 13 will be restricted by a length of practice with headers and number of total headers allowed per player per week.
The settlement also, for the first time, mandates a standard protocol to follow when a player is found to have sustained a concussion.
The U.S. Soccer Federation said on Monday that it is implementing the changes for U.S. youth national teams and its development academy, which are controlled by the governing body. The USSF is also strongly urging that the changes be adopted by all of its members, which includes youth local level entities and American professional leagues not under direct authority of the defendants in the lawsuit.
"This is a tremendous victory that will affect millions of young soccer players across the country, and we're proud to be able to bring such comprehensive safety measures to the game," said Steve Berman, lead attorney in the suit, in a statement.
"We believe that this decision sends a strong message to coaches and lays down paramount regulations to finally bring safety management to soccer."
The suit was filed in California last year against FIFA, U.S. Soccer and American Youth Soccer, who are in charge of teaching the game to more than three million American children. The lead plaintiff was Rachel Mehr, a former youth club soccer player.
"We are proud to be the leaders in the areas of concussion education and management," said Daniel Flynn, CEO of the U.S. Soccer Federation, in a statement. "The development of a player safety initiative was underway before the current lawsuit was filed."
Instead of money, which has been the focus of concussion suits among lawsuits surrounding pro sports, this suit focused just on ensuring change for future. As part of the settlement the defendants have also agreed to pay the plaintiff attorney fees of $590,000.
The same law firm has filed a class action lawsuit against the NCAA that hopes to deliver the same changes to the college game.