Remove heading the ball from drills aimed at players aged 11 or under, Scottish Youth FA tells coaches

The Scottish Youth Football Association (SYFA) has instructed coaches to omit drills involving heading from all training sessions aimed at players below the age of 11.

The SFYA has issued the new guidelines following research carried out by the University of Glasgow

The association has issued fresh advice following research last week that revealed an increased risk of dementia in professional footballers. The new guidance recommends that all training drills involving heading the ball are removed from sessions while it is hoped that heading can be eliminated from matches as well.

The research, carried out by the University of Glasgow, studied adult former professional footballers and although no direct link was found between dementia and heading a football, the SFYA has issued the guidelines "as a precaution".

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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 decision means the SFYA is the first member association in Scottish football, and one of the first throughout Europe, to issue such advice.

Ms Witherow added: "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.”