A north-east youth football coach has welcomed a ban on heading for primary school children – but says more needs to be done to keep them safe.
The Scottish Football Association (SFA) has announced changes to its guidance on heading after a FIELD study found former footballers were more than three times as likely to die of neurodegenerative conditions than other members of the public.
Under the new guidelines, children under the age of 12 will not be permitted to head the ball in training, while a graduated approach will be introduced for older players.
Mark Robson, who coaches Westdyke Community Club’s 2009 team, praised the move but called for more work to be carried out to give a better understanding of the risks related to heading.
He said: “It’s a positive step but a lot more work needs to be done by the SFA and the medical profession to understand the risks of heading the ball better.
“You don’t need to introduce the repetitive heading of the ball in training until later.
“I don’t think the kids will be losing out by not heading the ball.
“Most people know someone who has suffered from a degenerative disease and if there’s anything we can do that limits the risks around them, we’ve got a responsibility to do it.”
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The new guidelines state heading should not be introduced in training sessions from the age of six through to 11 and should be considered a low coaching priority between the ages of 12 to 15, although training sessions can be introduced.
These should be limited to one session of no more than five headers per week at 13 years, increasing to 10 headers per session at 14 and 15.
For 16 and 17-year-olds it is recommended heading should be restricted to one training session and coaches should be mindful of limiting repetitions during that session.
SFA chief executive Ian Maxwell said: “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.
“We will also look to monitor and review the guidance as part of our commitment to making the national game a safe and enjoyable environment for young people.”
Dr Willie Stewart, the consultant neuropathologist who led the study, said: “A lot more research is needed to understand the factors contributing to increased risk of neurodegenerative disease in footballers.”