Children under 12 across England, Scotland and Northern Ireland will be told not to head the ball during football practice sessions. A study has shown that ex-footballers are more likely to die with dementia.
Football chiefs in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland on Monday announced a ban on children heading the ball during football practice.
The three football associations changed their guidance on the skill, following a study that showed former footballers were 3.5 times more likely to die from neurodegenerative disease.
The decision will affect primary school children up to the age of 12 and recommends a graduated approach to heading in training for those aged between 12 and 16.
However, there will be no ban on heading during football matches, given the limited number of headers.
English FA chief executive 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.”
The associations said the medical committee of the sport’s world governing body UEFA was likely to produce Europe-wide guidance later this year. The United States has also banned children aged 10 and under from heading the ball while there are limits in place for 11-to-13 year-olds.
The study, led by the University of Glasgow, found that ex-professional players were less likely to die of common causes such as heart disease and cancer compared with the general population but more likely to die with dementia.
Researchers did not state that heading a ball was the cause, but the decision to update the guidelines has been taken to “mitigate against any potential risks,” the FA said in a statement.
Scottish FA chief executive Ian Maxwell said Scottish football had a duty of care to young people.
“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,” he said.