Friday, 7 February 2020

Coaching guidelines to restrict heading by under-18s in training

The FA is set to launch new coaching guidelines that will restrict the amount of heading by under-18 players in training.

The new guidelines, first reported in the Times, have yet to be finalised but will not entirely ban heading.

Last month, BBC Scotland revealed the Scottish FA was set to ban under-12s heading the ball in training.

A study in October found the first links between playing professionally and dying from dementia.

The study, by Glasgow University and commissioned by the FA and the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA), found former professional footballers were three and a half times more likely to die of degenerative brain disease than people of the same age range in the general population.

The FA's new guidelines, expected to be issued later this month, will only apply in training and not in matches.

In December, two months after the release of the study's findings, the FA's head of medicine Charlotte Cowie said: "The FA's independently chaired research taskforce has instigated a review of possible changes to heading coaching and training at all levels to decrease overall exposure to heading without compromising technique.

"It is imperative that football now does everything it can to further understand what caused this increased risk and what can be done to ensure that future generations of footballers are protected."

A ban on children heading the ball has been in place in the US since 2015.

Peter McCabe, chief executive of Headway - the brain injury association - said: "We are encouraged to hear the Football Association is set to restrict the amount of heading allowed by young players.

"In light of the recent study undertaken by the University of Glasgow, this is a positive, common sense approach to take. After all, it will not prohibit young people participating in the game or impact their enjoyment.

"Further research is urgently needed in order to remove any uncertainty about how often a player can head a ball and at what age - if any - it is safe to do so before damage is caused.

"What is clear, however, is that we cannot afford to wait for further evidence to be published before taking action on this."

The study began after claims that former West Brom striker Jeff Astle died because of repeated head trauma.

Former England international Astle developed dementia and died in 2002 at the age of 59. The inquest into his death found heading heavy leather footballs repeatedly had contributed to trauma to his brain.

The long-awaited study was commissioned by the FA and PFA after delays in initial research had angered Astle's family.

It began in January last year and was led by consultant neuropathologist Dr Willie Stewart, who said that "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".

It compared the deaths of 7,676 former players to 23,000 from the general population.

The sample was taken from men who played professional football in Scotland, and were born between 1900 and 1976.

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