Children banned from heading footballs during training
The training guidelines are effective immediately but do not recommend a heading ban during matches. Primary-age children have been banned from heading the ball in new guidelines issued by the football associations in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Heading restrictions for all age groups under 18 were also announced with a graduated use between 12 and 16.
The guidance, which will not yet apply in Wales, will affect training only.
It follows Glasgow University research that showed former footballers were three-and-a-half times more likely to die from brain disease.
The Football Association of Wales said its guidance on children heading the ball was currently under review with the findings being made available later this year.
Does heading a football cause dementia?
In a joint announcement from the FA, Scottish FA and Irish FA, coaches were advised that there should be “no heading in training in the foundation phase”.
FA chief executive, Mark Bullingham, said: “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 University of Glasgow 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.
There was no evidence in the study that linked incidences of the disease with heading the ball, but the FA said the new guidance had been issued to “mitigate against any potential risks”.
Updated heading guidance
- Heading guidance in training for all age groups between under-six and under-18
- No heading in training in the foundation phase (primary school children)
- Graduated approach to heading training for children in the development phase between under-12 to under-16
- Required ball sizes for training and matches for each age group
- No changes to heading in matches, taking into consideration the limited number of headers in youth games
Scottish FA chief executive, Ian Maxwell, said Scottish football had a “duty of care” to young people and those responsible for their wellbeing.
“The updated guidelines are designed 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.
Irish FA Chief Executive, Patrick Nelson, said: “Our football committee has reviewed and approved the new guidelines. As an association we believe this is the right direction of travel and are confident it will be good for the game, and those who play it.”
Media caption ‘I think my dementia has been caused by heading’
Dr Willie Stewart, the consultant neuropathologist who led the University of Glasgow study said he was “encouraged” to see the new guidelines.
He added: “A lot more research is needed to understand the factors contributing to increased risk of neurodegenerative disease in footballers. Meanwhile it is sensible to act to reduce exposure to the only recognised risk factor so far.
“As such, measures to reduce exposure to unnecessary head impacts and risk of head injury in sport are a logical step.”
However, Dr Steward added that he would like to see the new guidelines adopted by the wider game and not just in youth football.
A similar ban, that also includes restrictions during matches, has been in place in the United States since 2015.
The rule change there came after a number of coaches and parents took legal action against the US Soccer Federation.