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The Scottish FA introduces new guidance on heading the ball around matchdays

The Scottish FA has introduced new guidance around the heading of a ball before and after a match after the latest research findings from the University of Glasgow.

The SFA had already introduced guidelines for young players back in 2020, but this new guidance is aimed at the senior men's and women's games.
The main points to be implemented from the guidance are:
  1. Training exercises which could involve repeated heading should be carried out no more than once a week.
  2. Training exercises which could involve repeated heading should not take place on MD-1 or MD+1; this includes activities such as crossing and finishing and set piece practice.
  3. Clubs should plan and monitor heading activity in training to reduce the overall heading burden.

Ian Maxwell, Scottish FA Chief Executive: “The historic University of Glasgow study (FIELD), which found an increased risk of neuro­dege­nerative disease in retired professional footballers, compared to a matched population control group, has been a catalyst for a radical rethink of football guidance.

“The Scottish FA said at the time that this research should shape the thinking in the adult game not just domestically but across the world. I am grateful to everyone in the professional game – clubs, coaches and managers, and players – for contributing to the latest research which has culminated in these new guidelines.

“It is our intention that these guidelines will be embraced and implemented with immediate effect. The publishing of today’s guidelines represents our ongoing commitment to player welfare.”   

Dr John MacLean, Scottish FA Chief Medical Consultant: “It is important to reiterate that while the FIELD study was not designed to identify the causes of this increased risk, both head injury and heading have been suggested as possible contributing factors to neuro­dege­nerative disease.

“While the research continues to develop, what we already know about heading and its effects on the brain suggests that there is measurable memory impairment lasting 24-48 hours following a series of headers, and that brain related proteins can be detected in blood samples for a short time after heading. Brain scan changes have also been reported in footballers that may be linked to heading. Therefore, the goal is to reduce any potential cumulative effect of heading by reducing the overall exposure to heading in training.

“Scotland was the first country in the world to have a single set of Concussion Guidelines for all sports and the ‘If In Doubt, Sit Them Out’ campaign is now widely recognised and implemented across all sports.

“The National Sports First Aid course aims to provide coaches and parents with the knowledge to recognise and remove players who have sustained a possible concussion, with the advanced Sport Promote course educating doctors and physi­ot­he­rapists in the professional game.  Concussion recognition and management is also an integral part of the Scottish FA Coach Education programme.”

Andy Gould, Scottish FA Chief Football Officer: “There already exists a lot of data around in-match heading but this latest research has been invaluable in understanding the extent of heading load within the training environment.

“I am grateful to the clubs, managers and players for providing us with the information and perspectives required to facilitate an informed and data-driven discussion which has culminated in the publication of guidelines designed to protect the safety and wellbeing of our players.”

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