Children under the age of 12 are being banned from heading the ball during training sessions, the Scottish FA has confirmed.
The sport’s governing body in Scotland says it is also restricting headers for 12 to 17 year olds.
It follows a University of Glasgow study which for the first time proved a link between football and dementia.
The updated guidelines take effect immediately but do not recommend an end to headers during matches.
The university study, published in October last year, found that former professional footballers are three and a half times more likely to die of degenerative brain disease – and five times more likely to die from Parkinson’s disease.
The findings did not provide answers as to why, but the SFA said it was all about common sense and mitigation.
“The updated guidelines are designed to help coaches remove repetitive and unnecessary heading from youth football in the earliest year,” said the Scottish FA chief executive Ian Maxwell.
“It is important to reassure that heading is rare in youth football matches but we are clear that the guidelines should mitigate any potential risk.”
The FA in England have also updated their guidelines but stopped short of introducing an outright ban.
Updated SFA guidelines
- Ages 6-11 – Heading should not be introduced in training sessions at this stage. The focus should be on fun activities and game formats – emphasis on learning to master the ball
- Ages 12-13 – Heading is a low priority at 12 but at 13 players can be introduced to basic concepts during training with limited repetition
- Ages 14-15 – Heading remains a low priority. No more than one heading session per week and limit the number of headers per player
- Ages 16-17 – Heading sessions once a week only with coaches still mindful of repetitions
Read the SFA’s new guidelines in full
The guidelines also say that younger players should not be penalised for heading the ball during matches, but that coaches should encourage passing, dribbling and combination play.
The SFA said they were encouraging people to report poor practice in relation to the new rules to the relevant association. There will also be monitoring and updates issued on the guidance every year.
Dr John Maclean, who works for the SFA and also took part in the field study, said Scotland was helping to lead the way globally.
“I am proud that the Scottish FA has taken a positive, proactive and proportionate approach to the findings of the field study,” he said.
“Scottish football has taken a lead of the subject of head injury and trauma in sport, from becoming the first country in the world to produce cross-sport concussion guidelines, to having one of the best medical education programmes in sport.”
A similar ban, that also includes restrictions during matches, has been in place in the United States since 2015.
The rule change there came after a number of coaches and parents took legal action against the US Soccer Federation.