Why are children being banned from heading footballs?
FA says decision follows study into link between football and brain disease
Children aged 11 and under will no longer be trained to head the ball by football associations in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The new guidelines will also usher in heading restrictions for all age groups under-18, with limits on how much heading older children should do.
In a joint announcement from the Football Association (FA), Scottish FA and Irish FA, coaches were advised that there should be “no heading in training in the foundation phase” - which covers primary school children, or under-11 teams and below.
The ban will only impact on training sessions, and will not affect youth matches. There are also new rules for age ranges up until 18, with headers being kept a “low priority” and gradually becoming more frequent in training up until the age of 16.
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The ban on heading follows research by the University of Glasgow that showed former footballers were three-and-a-half times more likely to die from brain disease.
The study, published in October last year, found that former professional footballers were more likely to die of degenerative brain disease and five times more likely to die from Parkinson’s disease. Researchers compared the causes of death of 7,676 Scottish professional footballers born between 1900 and 1976, against those of 23,000 people from the general population.
Dr Willie Stewart, who led the University of Glasgow study, said he was “encouraged” to see the new guidelines.
“A lot more research is needed to understand the factors contributing to increased risk of neurodegenerative disease in footballers”, Stewart added. “Meanwhile it is sensible to act to reduce exposure to the only recognised risk factor so far.”
The new guidance has been produced in parallel with UEFA’s medical committee, which is seeking to produce guidance for the rest of Europe by the end of this year.
Dawn Astle has campaigned for restrictions on heading at all levels of the game after her father Jeff Astle, an ex-professional footballer, died of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in 2002.
She told Sky News: “We must take early steps to avoid exposing children’s brains to risk of trauma and by saying there’s no heading in training for primary school children is a really sensible way to make the game we all love safer for all those involved.”
FA chief executive, Mark Bullingham, added: “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.
“Our research has shown that heading is rare in youth football matches, so this guidance is a responsible development to our grassroots coaching without impacting the enjoyment that children of all ages take from playing the game.”
The ban will not currently apply in Wales, with the Welsh FA saying that its guidance for coaches was currently under review. The findings are expected to be made public later this year.