January 26, 2022

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New heading guidance to be introduced across all levels of English football

3 min read

Guidance on heading will be introduced to every level of English football for the 2021-22 campaign, the Football Association (FA) have announced.

The new heading guidance has been agreed between the relevant bodies and will be applicable from the Premier League down to grassroots football and across the England national teams.

The advice will not affect football matches or the rules of the game, but instead the heading that occurs in training sessions, where most heading is performed.

Based on multiple studies by the Professional Football Negotiating and Consultative Committee, the initial focus of the guidance involves high-force headers, which usually follow a long pass (more than 35 metres) or from crosses and set-pieces.

The headers branded ‘high force’ will be limited to 10 per any training week, with clubs also recommended to develop tailormade player profiles to protect welfare.

While club staff will be encouraged to monitor recovery from heading exposure, further guidance also identifies how to produce lower-force headers – for example, throwing a ball for a header instead of kicking it.

Due to early evidence suggesting neck muscle is important for higher-force heading, a strength and conditioning advisory panel will identify safe ways to improve neck and torso strength.

Premier League Chief Executive Richard Masters said: “Our priority is to make the game as safe as possible for all players.

“We have worked collaboratively across football to undertake these initial research projects to help us further understand the impact of heading and inform guidance for all levels of the game.

“This is a long-term piece of work. We will now build on these studies and we remain committed to further research to ensure we have the right approach in place to protect the welfare of all players.”

For amateur clubs, the guidance is for heading practice to be limited to one session per week and no more than 10 headers a session, with players expected to monitor themselves.

This guidance aims to reduce overall exposure and improve welfare, while not affecting personal development of heading technique.

At youth level, guidelines have been in place since February 2020, with further updates being published on Thursday.

FA 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.

“These measures have been developed following studies with coaches and medics and represent a cautious approach while we learn more.

“We are committed to further medical research to gain an understanding of any risks within football, in the meantime this reduces a potential risk factor.

“Overall it is important to remember that the overwhelming medical evidence is that football and other sports have positive impacts on both mental and physical health.”

The relevant governing bodies will continue research before another formal review in June 2020 as football attempts to protect players’ long-term health.

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