Heading drills should be reduced in youth football and neck strengthening exercises introduced to help protect the health of young players, European soccer‘s governing body said on Thursday.
The recommendations were included in the heading guidelines for young footballers which were approved by UEFA following studies which it commissioned at the University of Saarland in Germany and the Hampden Sports Clinic in Scotland.
UEFA said the aim of the guidelines was to “limit the header burden in youth football to what is deemed necessary for the promotion of the game.”
There has been increasing concern over the possible long-term affects of heading and the English, Scottish and Northern Irish FAs have already barred heading in training sessions for under-12s.
Last year, a study undertaken by Glasgow University and supported by the Scottish FA found that former professionals were at more risk of dementia than the general population.
UEFA recommended that coaches “reduce heading drills as far as possible, taking into consideration the heading exposure at matches.” They should also be educated about the need to proceed gradually with heading drills through age groups, it said.
Balls should be the appropriate size and weight for the respective age groups, and the lowest pressure authorised by the rules, it said, while foam balls might represent an alternative. UEFA added that recent scientific research has suggested that neck strengthening exercises might help reduce the impact of heading. “It is noteworthy that girls are more prone to concussions and possibly also to header burden than boys,” added the guidelines.
National associations should include the guidelines “as a minimum” but could also include their own recommendations, UEFA said.