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British youth soccer players can’t head the ball anymore. Here’s why

Mario Balotelli of Italy takes on Goalkeeper Joe Hart and Gary Cahill of England in the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Mario Balotelli of Italy takes on Goalkeeper Joe Hart and Gary Cahill of England in the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Ben Queenborough/BPI/REX, AP

British youth soccer players will no longer be allowed to head the ball before turning 11, the Football Association announced Wednesday morning.

What’s going on:

  • Children from England, Scotland and Northern Ireland will not be allowed to use headers while playing soccer, according to the FA.
  • The announcement comes as the FA hopes to cut down on the harmful move.
  • Children older than 11 can still head the ball but “it will remain a low priority when compared to other technical aspects of the game,” according to the guidelines.
  • Children who are under age 12 can practice once a month but five attempts only.
  • U-13 players can practice once a week for five attempts at max.
  • Those who are U-14, U-15 and U-16 can practice headers once a week with a 10-attempt maximum.

Why now?

  • A 2019 study from the University of Glasgow found there is degenerative brain disease in former professional soccer players. These players were found to die 3.5 times more often from dementia compared to a control group. The players were five times more likely to die from Parkinson’s disease as well.

What they’e saying:

  • Scottish FA chief executive Ian Maxwell said in a statement (via The Washington Post): “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.”
  • William Stewart, a consultant neuropathologist at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital Glasgow, said (via BBC News): “A lot more research is needed to understand the factors contributing to increased risk of neurodegenerative disease in footballers. Meanwhile it is sensible to act to reduce exposure to the only recognized risk factor so far.”

What about in the U.S.?