Friday, August 29, 2014

Use your LOAF !

If you are from the UK, you’ll know that ‘your loaf’ is a Cockney rhyming-slang term for ‘your head’ – 'loaf of bread' = 'head'.  Got it?

I am a USSF (United States Soccer Federation referee – have been for more than 24 years – and have officiated in more than 6,000 matches in that time. USSF is an organization operating under the governance of FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Assocation). I am also an NFHS (National Federation of High Schools) soccer referee – been doing that for about 20 years. In that time, there have been a number of changes in the ‘Laws’ (‘Rules’ in NFHS parlance), but none as great as may come to pass – if some people ‘have their way’.

In the US, we have long referred to the 17 Laws that govern the game, as the LOTG – ‘Laws of the Game’. Sometime in the past 10 years or so, the UK adopted that same acronym – having previously referred to that collection of laws as the ‘Laws of Association Football’ – with the obvious acronym: LOAF - and for participants in the game, the clear admonition to (in a cerebral sense) ‘Use your LOAF’ – meaning: ‘Follow the game’s laws as outlined in your 'LOAF' booklet; also, think; be smart’ That admonition was intended to apply to both players and officials alike. Though that phrase is no longer used by the FA, the cerebral admonition prevails.

Pardon this momentary digression: For those (hermits) who may be unfamiliar with game of football (which everyone in the world calls it - except the Yanks who prefer to say ‘soccer’ – a derivative of ‘Association’) – said sport is globally referred to as ‘The Beautiful Game’.    
But now, we turn to address one important alternate interpretation to the phrase, ‘Use your LOAF’: 

One aspect of the game is that a field player may make contact with the ball by using any part of the body (except the arms and hands) while it ‘is in play’. That means, they may also (in the physical sense) ‘use their loaf’ – I mean, ‘use their head’. ‘Heading’ the ball, or making ‘a header’, is an important and skilful aspect of the game – both in offensive and defensive modes. But therein, as Shakespeare (and maybe certain BBQ chefs) would say, ‘lies the rub!’   

Concussions!   That is the latest concern to hit (excuse the unintended pun) the sporting world. It gained momentum ‘Stateside’ in the past year or so with concerns for those helmeted – and otherwise excessively padded – participants in ‘pointy-ball’ – err, forgive me: ‘football’ (US-style). 

Too many players – mostly at the professional level – were being diagnosed (too late in most instances) with the damaging effects of earlier concussions. Why that level of concern was not raised when the likes of Mohammed Ali and Joe Frazier were ‘bashing each others brains out’ is beyond me. But that is another story.

Now, (again ‘State-sides’) there is movement – by the favored US methodology, litigation, calling for FIFA to change the laws (the LOTG); to ’use their loaf’ and ban (‘make illegal’) the use of ‘headers’ or ‘heading the ball’.

I’ll give you sufficient time to recover from an inevitable, ‘Say what?’ moment. I’ll leave you for a few moments to invent parallels in other sports: maybe not being allowed to catch the thrown ‘pointy ball’, or the hit baseball, or the basketball rebounding off the backboard, unless both your feet are firmly on the ground!  How about replacing hockey sticks (for field and ice versions) and hurleys (bless the Irish and their games) with those ‘noodles’ one sees at the swimming pool?  A whack with one of those would surely remove the endangerment that the other implements invite, would it not?

OK. Now you have had time to unscramble your own brains - trying to envisage not only how the appearance and conduct of the game may be affected, ‘sans headers’, but how it could be implemented - allow me to explain the latter. But first, let me elaborate: The lawsuit, let us be thankful that it uncharacteristically does NOT seek monetary remediation, is said to be intended only to ensure the protection of the ‘yet not fully developed crania’ of children. I am not sure whether (or if) a ‘cut-off; age is cited, but my guess is that it would (should) be at the Under-12 (or maybe U-14) age level.

So, the lawsuit seeks to obtain changes to the LOTG. However, I submit three alternative actions – in no specific order of preference – as different ways to cut it.

First: In the ‘The Beautiful Game’, Law 12 has long had a provision that protects players from each other – and from themselves!  It is what most people call ‘dangerous play’ – more correctly phrased as ‘playing in a dangerous manner’. It is applied far less restrictively at professional levels than at youth recreation levels – as it should. One (oft misunderstood) example is where a player, lying on the ground, traps the ball under his/her body or attempts to kick the ball whilst prone, thereby ‘inviting a dangerous situation’ should the opponent attempt to play the ball. The sanction for the action is that the opponent is awarded an indirect free kick. Maybe, if FIFA were to entertain addressing the calls of the litigation, that body could (without changing the LOTG) authorize its subordinate governing bodies (such as USYSA – United States Youth Soccer Association – under the authority of USSF) that for play at their ‘Under-whatever-age’ level, ‘headers / heading the ball’ should, by that body’s declaration, be construed to be one of those ‘playing in a dangerous manner’ indiscretions. Such – as with an outright change to the LOTG – would be a mandated action.

Second: Youth league coaches could, in the interest of acknowledging the potential risk of concussions from repeated ‘heading’, simply advise their players NOT to head the ball. They would have to do that if such action were to be made illegal. Such an action would be an advisory action.  

Third: Another course of action is one that promotes use of a simple education process, whereby parents / guardians of developing children can become informed of the nature of the game and its inherent risks - and be allowed to exercise some ‘informed parenting skills’ regarding their child’s participation. There are a lot of non-contact activities from which a child can acquire the concepts of competition, skill development, fair play, team-work, etc, etc. Such an action is a discretionary action – one requiring that they use their loaf – in all senses of the phrase.

Now, what do you think should be done?  

No matter how you may have decided to slice it, the issue of concussions in children's sports activities should be addressed. 

Use YOUR loaf’

1 comment:

  1. Mel, a few thoughts. My background is playing (poorly I might add) in college before soccer here in the States had caught on much. I also coached youth soccer for many years and was, for a time, a USSF certified referee.

    Certainly the forces are flowing in the direction of banning heading. I always thought the more dangerous part was not the act of heading but rather the head to head collisions or elbow to head impacts that sometimes occur.

    I'd agree that it is wise to wait until youngsters are older before they start heading although I do believe the basics can be taught earlier so when they do it they do it correctly. I used to use volleyballs or something light. I'd have them get on their knees and then hold the ball in front of them and basically fall forward so the proper part of the head would impact the ball. Eyes open, mouth shut! Oh how I loved the "mouth shut" part.

    When a player showed signs of wanted or trying to head during a game I'd bring up the idea that it's only worthwhile if we end up with the ball in a better situation. Most headers from young players are totally random and without purpose. But the parents watching ooh and ahh and that encourages more heading which is oft times not properly done.

    Of course back when I played (did I mention it was poorly?) the balls were made of leather and when they got wet they got heavy. Ugh! Must say I had some headaches from those. I'm sure it was from the heading because it was before the party started.

    So, to be fully accurate, any study would have to take into account when a player started heading and if they were doing it properly among other factors before any scientific conclusion could be drawn.

    So, there you go. No conclusions, just random thoughts on the issue.