| The SFA today published updated heading guidelines for all age groups from six to 17 years old.
The guidance will be introduced with immediate effect and will provide clubs, coaches, players and parents with clarity on the governing body’s recommended coaching approach to heading in training sessions and in matches.
The SFA recommends no heading practice in children’s football, defined as primary school age, and a graduated approach in youth football, defined as secondary school age.
It comes in light of the historic study led by the University of Glasgow, published in October last year, which reveals the first major insights into lifelong health outcomes in former professional footballers.
Although there was no evidence in the FIELD study to suggest that heading the ball was the cause to the link with incidence of degenerative neurocognitive disease, the updated heading guidelines have been produced in consultation with UEFA and The FA to mitigate against any potential future risks being established.
The recommendations will incorporate all children’s and youth football in Scotland and include the following recommendations:
Heading should not be introduced in training sessions from the age of six through to 11.
Heading should be considered a low coaching priority between the ages of 12 to 15 years however 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.
It is acknowledged that heading will begin to form part of the game at 12 and should be permitted, however, coaches are encouraged to promote a style of play that limits long passing.
Heading burden will remain restricted to one training session per week for 16 and 17 year olds and coaches should be mindful of limiting repetitions during that session.
The updated guidelines have been overseen by the Scottish FA Medical Consultant, Dr John MacLean, who co-authored the FIELD study report, in consultation with Andrew Gould, the SFA’s Head of Football Development. It has also been approved by the Scottish FA Board and endorsed by the Non-Professional Game Board.
Ian Maxwell, SFA Chief Executive said: "While it is important to re-emphasise 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. 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. I would like to thank our colleagues at the English FA for their collaboration in this process and UEFA’s Medical Committee for their guidance."
Dr John MacLean said: "I am proud that the Scottish FA has taken a positive, proactive and proportionate approach to the findings of the FIELD study. Scottish football has taken a lead on the subject of head injury and trauma in sport, from becoming the first country in the world to produce cross-sport concussion guidelines - If In Doubt, Sit Them Out - to having one of the most advanced medical education programmes in sport. Since the publication of the report we have consulted with colleagues on the football and medical sides at The English FA and UEFA and I believe the guidance will help provide reassurance for young players and their parents nationwide."