Scottish FA may ban under 12’s from heading footballs in practice

Studies showing a dementia link to heading footballs push the Scottish FA to take action.

Children playing football in orange tops
In a matter of weeks children under in 12 in Scotland may be banned from heading footballs following a report linking the sport to dementia. The Scottish FA (SFA) want under 12’s to be banned from heading during training. Studies in 2019 by experts at Glasgow University found former players are three-and-a-half times more likely to die of dementia than people of the same age. Yesterday on BBC Breakfast University of Stirling expert Dr Angus Hunter, who carried out research on children heading footballs, said: “Heading the ball means the brain will shake inside and hit the inside of the skull when children header the ball. This happens every time children header the ball. It causes electrical disturbances and impairment in memory recall straight after.” Dr Hunter also commented on the concern this raises around the messaging with children over 12. He said: “It’s about mitigating the damage – using a lighter ball for example – reducing the potential consequences at that age. We still want to encourage them to participate in football to keep fit but it’s about making it as safe as possible.” Media have been reporting on the story: BBC news online wrote about on the death of footballer Jeff Astle after his brain was re-examined in 2014 and the coroner ruled that he had died from a brain condition more commonly linked to boxing and that it was caused by years of heading heavy footballs. In a report by BBC news Scotland, the SFA's doctor, John MacLean, said: "We can't wait on the evidence one way or the other on heading.” In the same report, Gordon Smith, former chief executive of the SFA, said "They're better [off] using a softball so they actually develop the technique, but there's no effect on them for later days." Mail online focused on the proactive actions being taken by the SFA in light of the report from Glasgow University. They commented that Scotland was leading the way in Europe and that the US was the only other country in the world to have a heading ban for under 10s.  The Telegraph online talked about the pressure on the English FA now to look at their policies around heading in football. The report also commented on data comparing NFL head injuries and the recent findings linked to heading. On BBC Breakfast Dr Hunter went on to say: “The effects of concussion in children is far, far greater. The recovery time is far longer. The difference between concussion and constantly heading a ball (sub concussion) is that it’s hidden. There are policies around removing children from play when they are concussed however heading a ball day in day out can be causing hidden damage that could have long term effects.” Peter McCabe, Chief Executive of Headway, a brain injury association, reacted to the news about children heading footballs. Mr McCabe said: “[It’s] vital that more research is conducted to fully understand what risks, if any, are linked to heading lightweight modern footballs. “There are questions about the age limit and speculation suggests this will be 12 years. This infers that a child of 13 years is safe to head the ball. How do we know this to be the case?”  We have resources on concussion for the cost of p&p only and you can read our information pages.
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