Age-appropriate limits on the amount of heading U18s do in training are set to be introduced by the FA.
Guidelines, which are still to be finalised, will place some restrictions on heading in youth football in England to address health fears concerning the impact of heading balls, according to PA Media.
The Scottish FA is understood to be close to issuing a total ban on heading in training for U12s, a move which was welcomed by campaigner Dawn Astle – daughter of former West Brom striker Jeff Astle – and by Professor Willie Stewart, who is leading a study into the subject.
Jeff Astle was suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) – a condition more associated with boxers – when he died aged 59 in 2002 and was confirmed in 2014 as the first British footballer to die as a result of heading a football.
The Football’s Influence on Lifelong health and Dementia risk (FIELD) study has found that professional footballers are three and a half times more likely to die of neurodegenerative disease than the general population.
Dr Charlotte Cowie, the The FA’s head of medicine, said in December last year that the governing body’s independently-chaired task force was reviewing the guidance on heading in youth football.
The intention of any changes, Cowie said, would be to “decrease overall exposure to heading without compromising technique”.
A ban on heading in children’s football has been in place in the US since 2015.
The FA and PFA jointly funded the FIELD Study, with its first findings published in October last year.
Professor Stewart told the PA news agency in January that restrictions on heading should be introduced across the board, including in training in senior professional football.
“A move to reduce head impacts in youth sports is a good idea, but I would caution that that’s probably not enough,” he said.
“It’s not enough just to say ‘let’s take heading out of the game in U12s’ I think we need to look across the entire game – amateurs, seniors, professionals – and say ‘where else can we make changes to be effective?’
“And not just in football, look across all sports and think ‘what could we do differently?’ It’s a good start, but I hope that this isn’t the end.
“We haven’t got the cast-iron evidence of direct causality [between heading and health outcomes] but what we have is more than enough evidence, adding up over the decades and right up to the FIELD study at the end of last year, which says there’s a strong association between contact sports and development of dementia.
“And when we look at what is the common factor, exposure to head injury and head impact is the one thing that stands through.
“Now there may be other things we haven’t yet recognised, but Lord knows we’ve been working hard to identify them and we haven’t yet identified them.”
Headway, the brain injury association, are also supportive of the FA’s reported plans to consider changes to the role of heading in the game.
Peter McCabe, chief executive of Headway, said: “We are encouraged to hear the Football Association is set to restrict the amount of heading allowed by young players.
“In light of the recent study undertaken by the University of Glasgow, this is a positive, common sense approach to take. After all, it will not prohibit young people participating in the game or impact their enjoyment.
“Further research is urgently needed in order to remove any uncertainty about how often a player can head a ball and at what age – if any – it is safe to do so before damage is caused.
“What is clear, however, is that we cannot afford to wait for further evidence to be published before taking action on this.”