Response to study

Scottish FA bans children from heading footballs

Duty of care: Ian Maxwell (pic: SNS Group)

Children under the age of 12 have been banned from heading footballs in training under updated guidelines from the Scottish FA.

There should also be a phased introduction to headers for older kids up to under-18 level, according to the SFA’s guidance, produced in consultation with UEFA and the English FA to mitigate against any potential future risks being established.

The changes come in the wake of Glasgow University’s FIELD study which found that former footballers were at a greater risk of dying from brain disease.

Ian Maxwell, Scottish FA chief executive 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 wellbeing 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.

“We will also look to monitor and review the guidance as part of our commitment to making the national game a safe and enjoyable environment for young people.”

The recommendations will incorporate all children’s and youth football in Scotland and include the following recommendations:

Heading should not be introduced in training sessions from the age of six through to 11.

Heading should be considered a low coaching priority between the ages of 12 to 15 years however training sessions can be introduced. These should be limited to one session of no more than five headers per week at 13 years, increasing to 10 headers per session at 14 and 15.

It is acknowledged that heading will begin to form part of the game at 12 and should be permitted, however, coaches are encouraged to promote a style of play that limits long passing.

Heading burden will remain restricted to one training session per week for 16 and 17-year-olds and coaches should be mindful of limiting repetitions during that session.

The FIELD study began after the death of 59-year-old former West Bromwich Albion striker Jeff Astle in January 2002, a coroner ruling he had died from dementia brought on by repeatedly heading a football.

Celtic legend Billy McNeill

Battle: Billy McNeill (pic SNS Group)

Celtic legend Billy McNeill died last year, nine years after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Four months ago, it was revealed that former Scotland, Hibs, Liverpool and Nottingham Forest midfielder Peter Cormack, is suffering from dementia.

The study compared deaths of more than 7500 former players to 23,000 from the general population and found that there was also a four-fold increase in motor neurone disease and a two-fold risk of Parkinson’s disease in former professional footballers.

Although footballers had higher risk of death from neurodegenerative disease, they were less likely to die of other common diseases, such as heart disease and some cancers, including lung cancer.

Scottish FA medical consultant Dr John MacLean, who co-authored the study, said: “I am proud that the Scottish FA has taken a positive, proactive and proportionate approach to the findings of the FIELD study.

“Scottish football has taken a lead on the subject of head injury and trauma in sport, from becoming the first country in the world to produce cross-sport concussion guidelines to having one of the most advanced medical education programmes in sport.

“Since the publication of the report we have consulted with colleagues on the football and medical sides at the English FA and UEFA and I believe the guidance will help provide reassurance for young players and their parents nationwide.”

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