New advice not to train headers with children of primary-school age has been described as “a complete farce” by one coach, while others welcomed the rule change.
New guidelines from the football associations of England, Northern Ireland and Scotland advise no heading at all in training for primary-school children and a “graduated approach” to introduce heading training at under-12 to under-16 level.
Paul Faili began his career 26 years ago as a coach for the under-eights at non-league club Three Bridges FC, where he is now the first-team manager and chairman, and told the PA news agency the shift risks affecting players later in their careers.
“Our club have about 12 youth teams so this is huge for us – a complete farce,” the 58-year-old said.
“If the young player is not coached on how to head the ball, how should they know how to head a ball later in life?”
Faili also warned the national team could be left behind if other countries choose not to enact a similar rule change.
“Once again the FA have brilliantly taken us backwards just as we are putting a decent (young) national side together,” he added.
The new rules have been brought in to mitigate health risks after a study found professional footballers were three and a half times more likely to die of a neurodegenerative disease than age-matched members of the general population.
In the new guidelines there are no changes to heading in youth matches, where headers rarely occur.
Michael Mitchinson, a qualified coach at Driffield JFC under-nines, told PA he welcomes the rule change.
“I firmly believe in the earlier years of learning the game, heading isn’t really necessary anyway, and I certainly don’t practise it in training,” the 31-year-old said.
“We try to promote keeping the ball on the floor and passing over short distances so the likelihood of a player heading a very minimal.
“However… beyond the age of 11, I’m glad they still allow a small amount of heading as otherwise no heading until adults would severely damage their development.”
Gemma Bell, a UEFA B-qualified youth-team coach at Hykeham Town FC, said she also never practises heading with players under the age of 12.
“The players experience this in the game but it is not something I believe is a priority to develop,” she said.
“Taking headers out of the game would be a step too far but certainly isn’t needed as a training focus.”
The 33-year-old added that she is part of a 160-coach community WhatsApp group, where responses to the new rule have been mixed and one even suggested using a balloon with the youngest players.
“The coach suggested that (subject to wind) he would use a balloon for technique as this would allow you to slow down the action and take away some of the anxieties some players have around heading,” Bell said.
Bell said she could see how the method could work but would be inclined to still focus on youngsters practising with their feet.
When asked about the balloon idea, Mitchinson said: “I’d think it’s pointless, it’s completely different to the ball they would need to head in a game so would be irrelevant.
“The idea of practising heading is to get used to the flight of a ball to get timing correct and also direction.”