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Youth coaches give thumbs-up to SFA's heading ban move

By Matt Leslie

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Two Caithness youth football coaches have given their backing to the Scottish Football Association's plans to ban heading for players under the age of 12.

Derek Shearer of Wick-based East End FC and Thurso United's Steve Bain agree that restricting heading for youngsters is a good thing given recent medical evidence

The move from the Scottish game's governing body comes following a report which found that former players were at greater risk of developing dementia later in life.

A similar ban has been in place in the United States since January 2016 where players aged 10 or younger are banned from heading the ball.

Scotland plans to outlaw heading for all under-12s and will be the first country in Europe to put such a plan into place once the SFA's proposal is rubber-stamped.

Links between heading and dementia have grown with a number of former players suffering with the condition.

Former England international Jeff Astle passed away in 2002 and was found to have died from dementia pugilistica – a progressive degeneration of the the brain caused by repeated head trauma and is usually associated with former boxers.

Another case has been Mike Sutton, formerly of Norwich City and father of ex-Celtic star Chris, who was diagnosed with dementia in 2012.

We like to teach the youngsters to play the ball on the ground anyway.

Shearer said: "It is a good move by the SFA given the evidence that is out there showing that there are health risks.

"Children are still developing their bodies and minds so it makes sense to rule it out before they reach their teen years.

"If and when the proposal comes into effect, it won't affect our training as we like to teach the youngsters to play the ball on the ground anyway. For indoor training, we do a lot of work with a Futsal ball which is a low-bouncing ball that can barely reach shoulder height.

"Obviously you can't stop kids trying out headers in the park or in their back gardens because they've seen a professional footballer do it on television. But we can do what we can in an organised environment."

Bain said: "I would expect the SFA to look at the American model and anything they implement would probably be based upon it.

Heading the ball is something we rarely, if ever, would coach at the younger age groups.

"At Thurso United, rarely if at all do we practise heading.

"The ban has to be seen as a good move if there is a link between heading a ball and brain trauma or any other negative health implication.

"We look to the SFA for advice regarding matters like this as they have access to the expertise in this area.

"I also don't see this affecting training or matches either, as heading the ball at that age in Caithness youth football let alone at Thurso United training is very rare.

"That's due to the kids all playing small-sided games on relatively tight pitches, where goalkeepers are not permitted to kick from hand – which SFA guidance implemented for under-11s and younger – so the ball is seldom ever seen above head height during games.

"Also, at Thurso United, we encourage all players to play the ball on the ground, and heading the ball is something we rarely, if ever, would coach at the younger age groups.

"Kids absorb knowledge like sponges at a young age. If they are taught to play football on the deck early you would hope that would stick with them and become a habit."

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