Major heading restrictions will be a part of the 2021/2022 season as governing bodies want to protect player welfare amid dementia research.
Amid the health concerns of former footballers, the new guidance will limit high force headers in professional football training and be enforced from this season.
Heading Restrictions: New Guidance Will Reduce the Number of High Force Headers
Will Help Player Welfare and Raise Awareness of Potential Long-Term Damage
As reported in The Guardian, there will be new heading restrictions in place this season. In the professional game, the guidance will recommend each player limit high force headers to just ten per session. These would include any headers following a long pass, of more than 35m, or from set-pieces. These plans are all directly from the game’s main bodies.
The guidances will mean that all professional teams change and monitor their training techniques to minimise heavy heading sessions. For adults playing amateur football, the guidance is different. The guidance recommends ten headers per session and only one heading session per week.
The FA’s chief executive, Mark Bullingham, said: “We already have the most comprehensive guidelines in the world for youth football and now we are introducing, in partnership with the other football bodies, the most comprehensive adult football guidelines anywhere. Our heading guidance now reaches across all players, at all levels of the game.”
Professional clubs will be encouraged to ensure players have enough time after matches to recover from heading and will be given guidance on how to practise heading techniques with lower forces.
Dementia in Former Footballers a Cause for Concern
Research from Glasgow University has shown that ex-footballers are three and a half times more likely to die of dementia than the general population. Nobby Stiles and Jack Charlton were both suffering from reduced brain activity in the years following their deaths. Bobby Charlton, 83, is another member of the World Cup-winning side suffering after his dementia diagnosis in 2020. Sir Geoff Hurst will donate his brain to science after seeing his 1966 teammates suffering.
Reported in the Mirror, Hurst explained his theory on training techniques: “Then we’d play head tennis in the gym and, in the practice on the field, we’d be practising near post, far post headers and you could head 20 or 30 balls in the space of half an hour. I personally feel it’s more about the practice.”
The new rules will target the repeated practice of headers in training to reduce prolonged head trauma.
Research Into Head Trauma Will Continue
The governing bodies will deliver expanded research throughout the season as part of a formal review of the guidance in June 2022. The current guidance is created with coaches and medics and represents a cautious approach. Many people believe that modern footballers are at less of a risk due to lightweight balls. However, the lighter balls travel at much higher speeds and Dr Willie Stewart of Glasgow University believes this could lead to greater trauma.
Stewart went onto say: “I wouldn’t predict that players in 2020 are at any less risk [of neurodegenerative disease] than the players of the 50s, 60s or 70s,”
Therefore, research into the health of footballers, especially in regard to head trauma, must continue.