Primary children should not head footballs - new advice

Coaches of footballers aged under 11 told to remove header drills from training and to eliminate heading from matches

Tes Reporter

Primary pupils under-11 have been advised not to head footballs, following a study linking heading to neurodegenerative disease

Children under the age of 11 should avoid heading footballs, according to new advice.

The Scottish Youth Football Association (SYFA) is advising youth coaches to remove drills involving headers from all training sessions, and also recommends heading, "as far as possible, is also eliminated from games".

The move comes after a recent study suggested that former professional footballers were approximately three-and-a-half times more likely to die from neurodegenerative disease than the general population.

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Florence Witherow, national secretary of the SYFA, said: "Any drills which involve heading the ball should be removed from all training sessions for age groups up to, and including, under-11s.

"As far as possible, heading the ball during games at this age group should also be avoided."

She added: "The SYFA has previously recommended against training drills that encourage repetitive heading of the ball.

Youth football 'health risk'

"However, in light of Dr Willie Stewart's recent study into dementia risks in former professional footballers, we have updated and strengthened the advice to our clubs.

"We would also take this opportunity to remind all of our coaches and officials that if any player, at any age group, is suspected of having a concussion they must immediately cease playing in the game and should not rejoin the match."

Ms Witherow said: "Coaches and officials are reminded of NHS advice on concussion and head injury, and should seek immediate medical advice if symptoms continue or worsen, or if a player is suspected of having lost consciousness.

"Although there is not yet a definitive link between heading the ball and brain injury, it is essential that we take the relevant precautions to best protect our players."

A ban on heading for under-12s is to be considered by the Scottish Football Association (SFA).

Other potential measures by the SFA include tighter guidelines on heading practice, ensuring age-appropriate ball sizes are being used, and guidance to grassroots coaches.

In the United States, a ban is in place on heading for children under 10, and it is limited in training sessions for those aged 11-13.

Giffnock Soccer Centre, one of Scotland's largest youth football clubs, announced on Thursday a ban on heading for younger players.

Chairman Craig Inglis said: "As a community club, we're parents first and coaches second. In light of the available medical evidence, we feel a responsibility to safeguard the future health of our youngest players."

Dr Willie Stewart's study focused on the medical records of 7,676 men who played professional football in Scotland between 1900 and 1976, which were matched against more than 23,000 individuals in the general population.

His findings reported that the "risk ranged from a five-fold increase in Alzheimer's disease, through an approximately four-fold increase in motor neurone disease, to a two-fold Parkinson's disease in former professional footballers compared to population controls".

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Tes Reporter

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