Children of a primary school age have been banned from heading footballs during practice, new guidelines issued by the English, Northern Irish and Scottish Football Associations confirm.
On Monday morning all three FAs published a statement confirming the changes, which have been introduced with immediate effect.
There will be no changes in terms of the heading guidelines in competitive matches, taking into consideration the extremely limited number of headers which actually occur in youth matches.
The latest developments come in the wake of the FIELD study which showed former footballers were three-and-a-half times more likely to die of neurodegenerative disease than age-matched members of the general population.
The changes stated there would be no heading at all in the ‘foundation phase’ – primary school children – and a graduated approach to heading in training in under-12s to under-16s football.
The FIELD study did not state that heading a ball was the cause of the increased prevalence of neurodegenerative conditions among footballers, but the decision to update the guidelines has been taken to ‘mitigate against any potential risks’, the FA said in a statement.
The FA’s chief executive, Mark Bullingham, said apropos the news: “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 associations said the guidance had been produced in parallel with UEFA’s medical committee, which is seeking to produce Europe-wide guidance later this year.
Irish FA chief executive Patrick Nelson added: “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.”
Meanwhile, Scottish FA chief executive Ian Maxwell, said: “While it is important to re-emphasise there is no research to suggest that heading in younger age groups was a contributory factor in the findings of the FIELD study into professional footballers, nevertheless Scottish football has a duty of care to young people, their parents and those responsible for their well-being throughout youth football.
“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.
“It is important to reassure that heading is rare in youth football matches, but we are clear that the guidelines should mitigate any potential risks.”
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