No, the FA hasn't banned heading the ball during footie training sessions for the under-12s

The Football Association (FA) has not banned youngsters from heading footballs during training sessions.

The governing body this morning issued grassroots clubs across Lancashire with updated guidance, which recommends that "heading should not be introduced in training sessions" for under-sevens, eights, nines, 10s, and 11s.

But while the move was described by several media outlets as a "ban", the guidance is not mandatory and relates mainly to specific heading drills, JPIMedia understands.

Players would not necessarily be expected to duck or deliberately avoid heading during training games, one insider said, with coaches left to decide how they apply the new guidance.

"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," the FA's boss Mark Bullingham said.

"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."

Local children take part in activities during a Premier League Football Foundation Hub Opening at Jericho Lane Playing Fields on October 31, 2019 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images for Premier League)

Local children take part in activities during a Premier League Football Foundation Hub Opening at Jericho Lane Playing Fields on October 31, 2019 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images for Premier League)

The FA set up an independent research group following a study by the University of Glasgow, which was published in October and found that, although former professional footballers tend to live longer and are less likely to die from heart disease or lung cancer, they are almost four times as likely to die from dementia.

Although the study did not determine the cause of the dementia, including whether or not it was caused by heading footballs, the FA's research group made the changes to "mitigate against any potential risks" to players' long-term health.

The guidance, which does not advise against heading in matches, also says youngsters should use smaller size three footballs, which should not be over-inflated, from ages U6 to U10.

Size four balls should be used from U11 to U15, when regular size five balls can be used.

Chelsea FC manager Tommy Docherty watches his son 11-year-old Michael training with a schoolfriend, Christopher Clark, in Ewell, Surrey, 23rd July 1962. Michael later followed his father into football. (Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Chelsea FC manager Tommy Docherty watches his son 11-year-old Michael training with a schoolfriend, Christopher Clark, in Ewell, Surrey, 23rd July 1962. Michael later followed his father into football. (Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Heading drills should be treated as a "low priority" from U12 to U16, with a maximum of one session per week and five headers.

Even at U18, drills should be "reduced as far as possible, taking into consideration the heading exposure in matches", the FA said.

Bispham Junior Football Federation (BJFF), one of the Fylde coast's biggest grassroots clubs, said it was "not quite" true to suggest heading has been banned.

In a statement posted to its Facebook page, the club said "heading is a part of our game and will continue to" be, though it said it will be following the FA's guidance, which can be read here.

Dr Michael Grey, from the University of East Anglia's School of Health Sciences, is leading a project to watch ex-footballers for early signs of dementia.

He said the new guidelines are "welcome" and added: "Whilst we do not want to change the game, there is good evidence to suggest repetitive and sub-concussive injury should be minimised.

"The new guidelines go some way to reducing repetitive head trauma exposure in football. They are, however, guidelines rather than rules, and the onus is now on coaches and trainers to ensure they are followed.

“We need to develop better training techniques to reduce exposure in children even further. We also need further studies ... to better understand cognitive health in former players."

Peter McCabe from Headway, the brain injury charity, said it "seems entirely sensible to limit the number of times children are allowed to head footballs", but said: "The question is, 'Is this enough? Should it be limited to children?'

"We cannot allow for key questions to remain unanswered, such as, 'At what age is it safe to head a modern football, if at all?'

"Neither can we afford to wait 30 years for the results of a longitudinal study to reveal the answers or hesitate to introduce other common sense measures that protect players, such as concussion substitutes.

"Research is now emerging showing differences in brain functioning immediately following football matches or heading practice. Football has to be willing to react to this growing body of evidence and not solely rely on dementia diagnoses when assessing the relative risks of heading footballs compared to the wider health benefits we know playing sport brings."