The FA yesterday announced revised heading guidance for all age groups between under-six and under-18, in association with the Irish and Scottish FAs.
The revised heading guidance, which will be introduced immediately, will provide grassroots clubs, coaches and players with the recommended heading guidance for training sessions only. The guidance does not make any changes to the way matches are played.
Following the publication of the FA and PFA funded FIELD study, carried out by the University of Glasgow and published in October 2019 – the independently-chaired research taskforce were to guide on possible changes to heading coaching, review concussion management protocols, and advise on future research projects.
Although there was no evidence in the FIELD study to suggest that heading the ball was the cause to the link with degenerative neurocognitive disease, to mitigate against any potential risks the updated heading guidance has been produced in parallel with UEFA’s medical committee, which is seeking to publish Europe-wide guidelines later this year. The Irish FA and the Scottish FA will also adopt the same heading guidance.
The updated heading guidance includes:
• Heading guidance in training for all age groups between under-six and under-18
• No heading in training in the foundation phase (primary school children)
• Graduated approach to heading training for children in the development phase between under-12 to under-16
• Required ball sizes for training and matches for each age group
• No changes to heading in matches, taking into consideration the limited number of headers in youth games
FA chief executive officer Mark Bullingham said: “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.
“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.”
– Mark Bullingham, The FA’s chief executive officer
Patrick Nelson, chief executive of the Irish FA, added: “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.”
The Scottish FA’s chief executive, Ian Maxwell, commented: “While it is important to reemphasise there is no research to suggest that heading in younger age groups was a contributory factor in the findings of the FIELD study into professional footballers, nevertheless Scottish football has a duty of care to young people, their parents and those responsible for their wellbeing throughout youth football.
“The updated guidelines are designed to help coaches remove repetitive and unnecessary heading from youth football in the earliest years, with a phased introduction at an age group considered most appropriate by our medical experts. It is important to reassure that heading is rare in youth football matches, but we are clear that the guidelines should mitigate any potential risks.