Heading has been an integral part of the game but football is under increasing pressure to minimise head to ball contact due to reported concerns of developing long-term neurodegenerative diseases There is understandable concern amongst players and parents of Rugby Union and American Football regarding the incidence of head injuries and football has already taken some measures to alleviate these fears. For players Under 10 or 11 years of age in several countries heading the ball is now banned ( references provided at the foot of this from the USA, Scotland and England)
In these countries and the majority of others there are also strict regulations for players up to 12 years of age which ban 11v11 football and promote small sided games ( e.g Mini -Soccer).
So given the dimensions of most pitches for small sided games for children it is extremely unlikely there would have been very limited frequency of heading anyway.In addition it is worth remembering that young players of this age have difficulty lofting the ball !
Specifically for GRASSROOTS FOOTBALL ( excluding pro, semi pro or academy football ) in this blog we examine three related issues :
Is heading a problem in Grassroots Football ? What is the likely frequency of heading in Grassroots Football ?
it worth trialing as a pilot programme a ' no heading' programme for older grassroots players playing 11-a-side ?
With the regulations for players under 12 years of age can we consider some simple Game Understanding Alternatives for ' Non Heading games '
The Cycle of Participation
- As stated in the countries referenced at the foot of this blog and in many other countries there are also strict regulations which ban 11v11 football and promote small sided games ( e.g Mini -Soccer) up to at least 12 years of age
- The numbers of players who maintain grassroots participation after 12 years of decreases as they get older across the world and the popularity of 5 -a-side football or Futsal increases : the English FA estimate more people play 5-a-side football in England than 11- a-side
- This means that for the average grassroots player who may begin to play 11v11 at 12 or 13 years age they will have a small window of 4 or 5 years to experience 11v11 football and thus heading the ball. By 17/18 years of age the vast majority of grassroots players are back to playing a small side version with no heading
- The clamp down on tackling from behind and dangerous tackling in 1998 has resulted in more players being able to turn, dribble and run with the ball more frequently at all levels of football. Lofting the ball forward in the air avoiding reckless tackles to initiate a heading duel is less common in the 21st Century
- Many grassroots players in the 21st Century may think the playing surfaces on which they play are in poor condition but very many 20th Century surfaces were even worse !
- For example more grassroots football is played on synthetic surfaces these day and improved playing surfaces encourage more dribbling, turning and running with the ball whereas old muddy fields left many players few alternatives than to loft the ball forward !
So with revised participation cycles, rule changes and improved playing surfaces it is not surprising therefore to note in this UEFA study on heading the average number of headers per game at Under 16 years of age was 35 per game - average 1.4 headers per player per game
With 30 games a season the average grassroots player who choose to play 11v11 probably not head the ball in a game more than 100 times in a lifetime !
2. POTENTIAL PILOT PROGRAMME
So the incidence of heading in grassroots football is probably very limited. The choices for many coaches of teams as they approach 12/ 13 years of age are :
- do I coach heading ?
- and if so at what age ?
or is there an opportunity to introduce recreational ( maybe even co-educational ) , no - heading , 11 -a-side football ?
10 years ago suggesting there would be a demand for walking football would have been laughed at but nowadays it is a very popular global game. So - is there a demand for innovative no heading , 11 v 11 ?
To help you launch such a innovative programme, you may want to view our new online course ' INNOVATE ! Build Your Grassroots Football Startup' see here
We would be really interested in your comments - Please add your comments to this suggestion below in the comments section at the very end of this blog
3. TACTICAL ALTERNATIVES TO HEADING
National Associations are introducing rules regarding heading bit are they assisting coaches and players to discover alternatives ? Experienced Coach and former Head of Youth Football at Leeds United and Fernerbache SK ( Turkey) John Bilton has some ideas which are outlined below with a link to his website
Following many years of coaching part-time in youth programmes and senior non-league clubs, John began his professional coaching career with Leeds United where he became the Academy Director and the club produced a number of professional and international players. Through his career he has worked with Football League teams in England, Football Academies in Singapore, India and Turkey. He was also the coach of the England Women’s team. He holds the UEFA ‘A’ Licence and a BSc in Applied Sports Coaching. Former coach educator for UEFA in Turkey and Cyprus delivering "A" and Pro Licence courses. One of his most recent coaching position was that of Technical Director/Coach Educator at Fenerbahce SK's youth programme. He presently works alongside Dr Peter Usher researching for their soon to be published book “ The Probability of Winning.
Dr.Peter Usher is an internationally recognized sport psychologist who has spent many years working with Elite professional and Olympic athletes. In the latter years he has worked alongside John in English football, at the Singapore Sports School and the Youth Academy at Fenerbahce SK in Turkey. Peter is a Chartered Professional Coach and for over twenty years was a Master Course Conductor in Canada’s coach education programme. He is a former player and coach in Canada. Peter lives in Calgary
Their website is
- " All Players age 10 years of age and under shall not head the ball directly from the air in any match or competition, nor shall these players practice heading the ball in any organized team setting. If a player age 10 or younger deliberately heads the ball in a match, the referee shall award an indirect free kick to the opposing team at the spot of the infraction. If the heading occurs within the penalty area, the referee shall move the ball outside the penalty area and award an indirect free kick to the opposing team. - "Players age 11 and age 12 shall be permitted to head the ball in any match or competition. These players may practice heading the ball in an organized team practice or skill session, but coaches shall monitor this practice so that no single player heads the ball more than 25 times per week, regardless of setting"
In February 2020 the The Scottish Football Association published guidelines banning the heading of footballs in training sessions for children aged six to 11. Details here
Download the PDF below
In July 2022 , the English FA announced that they are to trial banning deliberate heading by children under 12 in England.
The FA has been given approval by football’s law-making body, the International Football Association Board (IFAB), to trial the removal of heading in selected grassroots competitions and leagues which come forward to take part in the coming season- 2022/2. If successful, the FA will apply to IFAB for a law change to remove heading at under-12 level and below from the 2023-24 season.
Full Guidance download below