Young football players should not take part in heading drills at clubs’ training sessions and the practise to be eliminated from games where possible, say sport officials in Scotland.
The Scottish Youth Football association has issued the guidance following the result of research released last week detailing the increased risk of dementia in professional footballers
Although the study doesn’t draw any direct link between dementia and heading the football, the SYFA has drawn up its new guidelines for all clubs coaching children under the age of 11 as a precaution for its youngest players.
Florence Witherow, National Secretary of the SYFA, said: “The SYFA has previously recommended against training drills that encourage repetitive heading of the ball.
“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.
“Any drills which involve heading the ball should be removed from all training sessions for age groups up to, and including, under 11s (7 v 7 teams). As far as possible, heading the ball during games at this age group should also be avoided.”
The SYFA the group in Scotland and one of the first football bodies in Europe, to issue such advice. Head injuries as well as heading the football should also be a storng consideration for clubs, the secretary said.
She continued: “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 re-join the match. 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.
“As well as the continuation of our own work in this area, we are keen to engage in further discussions with Dr Stewart around his findings and will continue to work closely with the Scottish FA to make any additional recommendations.
“The SYFA is committed to ensuring the safest environment possible for children and young people to play football. 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.”