The Irish Football Association has issued updated heading guidance for all age groups between Under-6 and Under-18 in partnership with the Football Association and the Scottish FA.
The updated advice, which is being introduced immediately, provides grassroots clubs, coaches and players with recommended heading guidance for training sessions. The guidance does not make any changes to the way matches are played.
Irish FA chief executive Patrick Nelson said: "Our football committee has reviewed and approved the new guidelines. As an association we believe this is the right direction of travel and are confident it will be good for the game and those who play it."
Following the publication of The FA and PFA joint-funded FIELD study, which was carried out by the University of Glasgow and published in October 2019, The FA established the independently-chaired Research Taskforce to guide on possible changes to heading coaching, review concussion management protocols and advise on future research projects.
Although there was no evidence in the FIELD study to suggest that heading the ball was linked with incidence of degenerative neurocognitive disease, to mitigate against any potential risks the updated Heading Guidance has been produced in parallel with UEFA’s Medical Committee, which is seeking to publish Europe-wide guidelines later this year.
The updated advice includes guidance in training for all age groups between Under 6 and Under 18, no heading in training in the foundation phase (primary school children) and a graduated approach to heading training for children in the development phase between U12 to U16.
It also covers required ball sizes for training and matches for each age group. There will be no changes to heading in matches, however, taking into consideration the limited number of headers in youth games.
FA chief executive Mark Bullingham said: "This updated Heading Guidance is an evolution of our current guidelines and will help coaches and teachers to reduce and remove repetitive and unnecessary heading from youth football.
“Our research has shown that heading is rare in youth football matches so this guidance is a responsible development to our grassroots coaching without impacting the enjoyment that children of all ages take from playing the game."
Scottish FA chief executive Ian Maxwell said: "The updated guidelines are designed to help coaches remove repetitive and unnecessary heading from youth football in the earliest years, with a phased introduction at an age group considered most appropriate by our medical experts.
“It is important to reassure that heading is rare in youth football matches, but we are clear that the guidelines should mitigate any potential risks.”