New FA guidance: children under the age of 12 should not head footballs in training
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New FA guidance: children under the age of 12 should not head footballs in training

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Heading the ball is a unique aspect of the way football is played, so this needed to be given much deliberation and consideration

Children under the age of 12 should no longer head the ball during training sessions, according to The Football Association (FA).

The recommendation was made in the latest update to the FA's heading guidance, which covers all age groups between under-six and under-18.

The guidance will be introduced immediately and will also be implemented by the Irish and Scottish football associations.

It will provide grassroots clubs, coaches and players with the recommended heading guidelines for training sessions – but does not make any changes to the way matches are played.

The new guidance follows research by the University of Glasgow in 2019, which suggested that former professionals were three times more likely to die from brain disease than non-players.

The Football’s InfluencE on Lifelong health and Dementia risk (FIELD) study was based on a 22-month research project, which also discovered a five-fold increase in the risk of Alzheimer’s among ex-footballers.

"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," said FA chief executive officer Mark Bullingham.

"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."

Les Howie, head of grassroots coaching at The FA, added: "When the FIELD study was published in October 2019, it felt like an important milestone for our game.

"The FA played a crucial role in supporting the study, having joint-funded the research alongside the PFA, and since it was published we’ve not stopped thinking about exactly what the research tells us and what the best steps are to take to support the game, from grassroots level to the top.

"Naturally there were calls for heading to be banned, following the publication of the study. This was entirely understandable.

"Heading the ball is a unique aspect of the way football is played, so this needed to be given much deliberation and consideration, notably with the support of our independently-chaired FA Research Taskforce.

"However, we do need to be mindful that the FIELD study did not show that heading the ball was the cause to the link with incidence of degenerative neurocognitive disease in their sample group of ex-professional footballers who were born between 1900 and 1976. And, as a result, there was no evidence to suggest that heading the ball, at any level of the game, should be banned.

"Our analysis of heading the ball in children’s games also gives us excellent insight into whether heading is a big part of the game at that level or not. The research shows that on average there are only around two headers per game in children’s football, which shows that heading the ball is an infrequent occurrence at that level of the game.

"The attention of our FA Research Taskforce then moved to football training, where heading the ball was likely to be more frequent and where bespoke heading practice sessions could be more prominent.

"Following detailed analysis and consolation, the new and updated Heading Guidance provides support for parents, coaches and teachers. The guidance covers all aspects of how to coach heading the ball, including the correct size of ball to use, the best techniques and how often the ball should be headed. The focus is on quality of heading training, rather than quantity."

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Children under the age of 12 should no longer head the ball during training sessions, according to The Football Association (FA).
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