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Rule Changes Address Safety, Communication in Scholastic Football and Soccer

By guest blogger Gina Cairney

The National Federation of State High School Associations has updated rule changes for high school football and soccer that include risk-minimization and communication opportunities during game time.

Additional rules were approved by the NFHS Board of Directors after the organization's Football Rules Committee approved 10 changes during a meeting last month in Indianapolis that would help minimize injury risks of high school football athletes, according to a statement.

Perhaps the biggest rule change is one concerning helmets coming off of players during a game, especially considering the recent coverage youth-athlete concussions have been getting across the country.

An illegal personal-contact foul was added to the rules stating, "no player or nonplayer shall initiate contact with an opposing player whose helmet has come completely off."

The committee also added language to another rule clarifying that if a player's helmet comes completely off during a play, but it's not attributable to a foul by an opponent, the player has to leave the game for at least one down.

"Player safety has been and will continue to be the top priority," Brad Garrett, chair of the NFHS Football Rules Committee and assistant executive director of the Oregon School Activities Association, said in the statement.

Xenith, a Massachusetts-based company that makes helmets and other athletic gear, expressed support for the rule changes in a press release.

Preventing the "popping off" of the protective head gear has been "an integral part of the development" of the company's core technologies designed to reduce the likelihood of an athlete's helmet coming off, according to the press release.

For high school soccer, the NFHS Soccer Rules Committee clarified when and how coaches can communicate with their players.

Starting in the 2013-14 season, coaches and players will be allowed to communicate with each other during a stop in play for an injury, according to the soccer committee's statement.

The rule in question still requires that a coach or health-care professional get approval from the referee before entering the field to care for an injured player, but the rule change will allow teams to huddle and get instruction from their coaches during the stoppage.

Electronic communication with on-field players is still prohibited, but another rule change will now allow such devices, like cellphones, on the sidelines.

"If a coach is on the bench and wants to use a tablet-type device to video and then at halftime show the players the rights and wrongs, they are able to do that," Mark Koski, NFHS director of sports and events, and liaison to the Soccer Rules committee, said in the statement.

Most of the rule changes concern game situations like fouls and free kicks, but the overall game itself continues to stay the same. It's just a matter of increasing safety precautions and improving communication among coaches and players.

Football is still football. Soccer is still soccer. Play on.

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