Clarification of Heading Policy for All MD Referees

As you know, over the past months, US Soccer has sent out a number of messages concerning the issue of heading the ball by players in the U-11 age group and younger.  Here is the latest statement to come out of US Soccer:

“As part of U.S. Soccer’s Player Safety Campaign, players 10 years old and younger are prohibited from heading the ball in practice and in games. To this end, when a player deliberately heads the ball in a game, an indirect free kick should be awarded to the opposing team from the spot of the offense. If the deliberate header occurs in the goal area, the indirect free kick should be taken on the goal area line at the point nearest to where the infringement occurred.”

Maryland State Youth Soccer Association (MSYSA) and the Virginia Youth Soccer Association (VYSA) have taken a position that aligns with the U.S. Soccer Player Safety Campaign.

The Maryland State Referee Committee fully supports this decision. The Committee has established the following criteria that must be adhered to by all Maryland Referees when they are officiating USSF sanctioned matches as well as all sanctioned tournaments. These amended rules will be enforced in both Maryland and Virginia, thereby eliminating the possibility of confusion across state lines. These changes are effective immediately!

  • This revised heading policy is to be enforced for all games in the U-11 age group or younger.
  • It is not the Referee’s responsibility to know the age of each individual player. It is the Referee’s responsibility to enforce this based on the age group they are officiating.
  • Whenever the ball strikes a player’s head, the Referee MUST immediately stop play.
  • An important point to remember is that this policy is a rule modification and NOT an amendment to the Laws of the Game. When the ball strikes a player’s head, the game is NOT being stopped because of a foul under Law 12. The primary reason for this modification is to ensure player safety. Once play is stopped, the Referee must make certain that there is no possibility of injury to the player before resuming play.
  • If the Referee deems that this was deliberate, an Indirect Free Kick will be awarded to the opponent at the spot of the offense, unless the offense occurred within the Goal Area. If it occurred within the Goal Area, the Referee should restart play at the same location that they would for any Technical Infraction (aka “Minor Foul”) under Law 12.
  • If the contact was not deliberate, the Referee should restart play with a dropped ball at the location of the ball when play was stopped, unless the location was within the goal area. If the location was inside the Goal Area, the Referee should restart play at the same location that they would for any dropped ball under Law 8.
  • There is no requirement to have players from both teams at the spot of the dropped ball. As an example, if a goalkeeper while making a save accidentally allows the ball to hit their head and immediately picks up the ball to put it back in play, the ball was not deliberately played by the goalkeeper’s head. In this circumstance, although the Referee is required to stop play, it is perfectly acceptable to drop the ball in a way that the goalkeeper can immediately pick it up and put it back in play.
  • Referees should discuss these rule changes with both coaches prior to the start of the match.

Remember, it is your responsibility to KNOW THE RULES FOR THE LEAGUE WHICH YOU ARE OFFICIATING and enforce them in the manner dictated by that particular league. If you are not sure of the rules, check with your assignor or the coaches. If coaches, parents, spectators or anyone else questions you concerning this, refer them to league administration.

If you have any questions concerning this, please contact Bob Reath, State Director of Instruction or Greg Watson, State Referee Administrator.

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