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British, Irish soccer bodies ban children from heading’ ball in practice

Sporting organizations in England, Scotland, and Ireland announced a new policy Monday that bars the practice of “heading” soccer balls by grade-school children during practice and training sessions.

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The Football Associations of England, Scotland and Ireland handed down the ruling following a University of Glasgow study last fall that found professional soccer players were more than three times more likely to die of dementia and five times more likely to die from Parkinson’s disease than the general population.

Although the study did not provide evidence that directly links heading the ball to increased incidences of degenerative neurocognitive disease, the Football Associations nevertheless moved to “mitigate against any potential risks” to young players.

“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,” said English Football Association CEO Mark Bullingham.

The ban applies only to practice sessions, not actual games, since the FA’s research has shown that heading is rare in actual youth matches, Bullingham noted.

“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,” added Scottish Football Association CEO Ian Maxwell.

The no-heading policy applies to training sessions for all age groups under 17 years and includes a “graduated approach” to heading training for children in the “development phase,” or between ages 11 and 15.

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