Football chiefs ban heading in training for young children

Tanya Simon
February 27, 2020

The Scottish Football Association has published guidelines banning the heading of footballs in training sessions for children aged six to 11.

The FA set up an independent research group following a study by the University of Glasgow, which was published in October and found that, although former professional footballers tend to live longer and are less likely to die from heart disease or lung cancer, they are nearly four times as likely to die from dementia.

Football authorities have been urged to follow new guidance for a ban on heading footballs in training by the youngest children, along with restrictions that better protect adult players.

The FA's new chief executive Mark Bullingham was quoted by the Guardian in the report as saying: "This updated heading guidance is an evolution of our current guidelines and will help coaches and teachers to reduce and remove repetitive and unnecessary heading from youth football".

The Football Association of Wales said its guidance for coaches on children heading the ball was now under review with the findings being made available later this year.

The new football association guidelines for coaches also puts limits on how much heading older children should do.

The 22-month FIELD study by the University of Glasgow's brain injury group found that the Alzheimer's risk was five times, while it was four-fold for motor neurone disease and two-fold for Parkinson's.

While there is no evidence to suggest that heading the ball is to blame, the new guidelines will be introduced to mitigate against any potential risks, according to a statement from the English Football Association (FA), in conjunction with the Scottish and Northern Irish FAs.

Ian Maxwell, Scottish FA Chief Executive said the governing body had a "duty of care to young people".

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Among the deaths, 149 were in Hubei Province and one in Hainan Province , according to the National Health Commission. Infections have been reported as far away as Italy, where 150 cases have been found.

"The updated guidelines are created to help coaches remove repetitive and unnecessary heading from youth football in the earliest years, with a phased introduction at an age group considered most appropriate by our medical experts", he said.

West Bromwich Albion legend Jeff Astle died in 2002 of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) linked to heading footballs and his family are long-standing campaigners around the dangers of heading.

Players would not necessarily be expected to duck or deliberately avoid heading during training games, one insider said, with coaches left to decide how they apply the new guidance.

"While we don't yet know the cause or causes of this increased risk, limiting unnecessary heading in children's football is a practical step that minimizes possible risks, ensuring that football remains as safe as possible in all forms", said Routledge.

Dr Willie Stewart, the neuropathologist who led the Glasgow research and is on the FA's task force, also wants the guidance extended.

He added: "A lot more research is needed to understand the factors contributing to increased risk of neurodegenerative disease in footballers".

"Research is now emerging showing differences in brain functioning immediately following football matches or heading practice".

The Welsh FA (FAW) has said it has no plans in place to ban heading at under-12s level.

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