The updated heading guidance for youth training sessions

Posted on: February 28th, 2020 | by Laura Murdoch | No Comments

Last Updated on: 28th June 2023, 12:44 pm

Heading In Youth Training Sessions


Updated Guidance For Youth Football Training

You boy heading a football



Back in 2020, the FA released new guidance about the practice of heading for all football players under the age of 18. It came after the Scottish FA announced that it would ban children from heading footballs in training sessions. So, what did the FA announce and what does it mean for youth football?

The updated heading guidance

The English, Irish and Scottish FAs jointly offered new recommendations for clubs, coaches and players about the practice of heading in training sessions. The new guidelines aim to reduce any potential risk by limiting the number of times a young player will be able to head the ball.

The update includes:

  • Heading guidance in training for all age groups between under-six and under-18
  • No heading in training during the foundation phase (primary school children)
  • A graduated approach for children in the development phase (under-12 to under-16)
  • Required ball sizes for training and matches for each age group

The new guidelines that the FA has released include detailed requirements for each age range as well as recommendations for the focus of training sessions. The full list can be found on the FA’s website but the table below shows the major changes concerning heading the ball.


FA Heading Guidance for Youth Training Sessions

Why has it changed?

The updated guidelines were a result of research into the link between dementia and football. The FA and PFA funded FIELD study discovered that former footballers were more likely to die of dementia. The study could not say what caused the increased risk but it caused concern about the future health of all players.

The new guidance has come from an independently-chaired research taskforce as an attempt to minimise any potential risk. The Scottish and Irish Football Associations will also adopt the new guidance. The FA was sure to remind everyone that the research has not determined that there is a definite link between heading the ball and dementia. Instead, the new guidelines aim to reduce any potential risk by limiting the number of times a young player will be able to head the ball.

Child heading a football

The USA ban

In 2015, American children aged 10 and under were banned from heading the ball. This came about after a group of worried parents and players filed a lawsuit against the US Soccer Federation. For many, the decision made America a pioneer in the sport but others just saw them buckling under the threat of legal action. The decision also raised many questions about how effective the ban would be and how it would impact young players. Especially as young football fans are so likely to try and emulate their sporting heroes.

A duty of care

Many people have praised the new guidance but there have been plenty who have spoken against it. There is no definitive link between heading the ball and dementia. This means a lot of critics see the new guidance as overkill. There is also the argument that footballs have changed enough that the study isn’t representative of the modern game. Plenty of coaches, players and fans see the announcement as diminishing the game without good cause.

The FA said the safety of young people is paramount. That they should take every chance to reduce any possible risk. The new guidelines limit the amount of unnecessary heading in the game, which many think is just common sense. It is only right, they argue, that the FA puts the health of the players ahead of the game itself.

Young boy kicking a football

2022/23 Trial

For the duration of the 2022-23 season, the FA carried out a trial to remove deliberate heading in football matches across U12 level and below. They gained approval from the International Football Association Board [IFAB] for a standard two-year trial basis.

Why reduce heading in matches?

There are a number of reasons why the FA wanted to introduce this trial. They were aiming to protect against any potential risks that could be linked with heading the ball. This includes injuries from head to head, head to elbow, or head to ground contact. They want to take precautions at the U12 and below levels of the game whilst research is still ongoing.

The removal of deliberate heading would also bring matches in line with their current guidance on heading in training sessions. Removing heading for these age groups would mean the focus would be on developing skills with their feet.

Updates on the 2022/23 trial

The FA recently released an update on the trial. 60 leagues across England took part in the trial which meant over 83,000 youth players. Thanks to their findings from last season, the FA will also adapt the trial to help improve the matchday experience.

2023/24 season

The FA has also confirmed that the trial will continue for its second year during the 2023-4 season. They have been communicating with the County FA network, leagues, clubs and schools to let them know how they can get involved. If you are interested in getting involved with the trial, get in contact with your league or County FA. They will have details on how you can sign up.

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