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Children under 11 ‘should not be allowed to head footballs’

The Scottish Youth Association has issued advice to coaches of children aged under 11.

Football involving under 11s is set for major changes.
Football involving under 11s is set for major changes.

The Scottish Youth Football Association has advised coaches to stop the practice of heading the ball in training and games involving children younger than 11.

Glasgow University research revealed former footballers were three times more likely to die from neurodegenerative disease, such as dementia, than the general population.

Youth football’s governing body has now issued the new guidelines to hundreds of clubs across Scotland.

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 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.”

The report, released last Monday and commissioned by the Football Association and the Professional Footballers’ Association, assessed the medical records of 7676 men who played professional football in Scotland between 1900 and 1976.

Their records were matched against more than 23,000 individuals from the general population, with the study led by consultant neuropathologist Dr Willie Stewart of Glasgow University.

His findings report that the “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”.

Although footballers had higher risk of death from neurodegenerative disease, they were less likely to die of other common diseases, such as heart disease and some cancers, including lung cancer.

Giffnock Soccer Centre is one of the first youth teams to adopt a ban on headers for younger players following guidance.

The centre, with a membership of 1200 players and 200 coaches, will stop its smaller-sided squads from heading.

Fergus Reid, from Giffnock Soccer Centre, said: “What we’ve decided today is essentially that we’re parents first and coaches second.

“We’re aware of the SYFA advisory note today that kids should be discouraged from heading the ball during training or games and we feel as one of Scotland’s largest youth football clubs that we really need to take lead on this.”

“There’s obviously a longer-term discussion about whether there’s going to be real changes – that’s for the governing body.”

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