Northern Ireland news

Primary-age children banned from heading footballs in training

Primary-age children have been banned from heading footballs during training

CHILDREN under the age of 12 have been banned from heading footballs during training.

New guidelines agreed by the football associations of Northern Ireland, Scotland and England will not apply to matches.

The rules follow research that revealed former professionals were more than three times likely than non-players to die from brain disease.

The landmark Field study, conducted by the University of Glasgow, showed professionals were, more specifically, five times more likely to die of Alzheimer's.

It also concluded that players were four times more likely to die of motor neurone disease and twice as likely to die of Parkinson's.

Although there was no evidence in the Field study to suggest heading the ball was the cause to the link with incidence of degenerative neurocognitive disease, the new guidance has been produced in parallel with Uefa's medical committee to mitigate against potential risks.

Uefa plans to publish Europe-wide guidelines later this year.

The updated heading guidance says there will be:

:: No heading in training in the foundation phase (primary school children)

:: A graduated approach to heading training for children in the development phase between under-12 to under-16

:: No changes to heading in matches, taking into consideration the limited number of headers in youth games

Up to the age of 11, the guidance states "heading should not be introduced in training sessions". Among under-12 and 13, heading "remains a low priority" with children only permitted to head the ball five times per session.

The Irish FA confirmed that it would adopt the guidance immediately.

"Our football committee has reviewed and approved the new guidelines. As an association we believe this is the right direction of travel and are confident it will be good for the game, and those who play it," Chief Executive Patrick Nelson said.

Dawn Astle, who has campaigned for restrictions on heading at all levels of the game and for steps to be taken to minimise the impact of concussion injuries, welcomed the news as an important first step.

Her father Jeff was a professional footballer who died in 2002 of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which the coroner ruled had been caused by repeated heading of a football.

"We're all really pleased - it's sensible following the results of the Field study," she said.

"We must take early steps to avoid exposing children's brains to risk of trauma and by saying there's no heading in training for primary school children is a really sensible way to make the game we all love safer for all those involved."

A documentary by former England international Alan Shearer suggested today's footballers may be at greater risk of head injury because balls are heavier than in the past.

"For every goal I scored with a header during a game, I must have practised it 1,000 times in training. That must put me at risk if there is a link," he said.

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