Bascome calls for heading ban for under-11s

From: by Sam Murley

Andrew Bascome says he is in favour of the Bermuda Football Association implementing island-wide guidelines restricting the teaching of heading to children aged 11 and under.

The discussion has been raised this week after the English, Scottish and Irish Football Associations set out new guidelines for coaches to no longer teach children 11 and under to head the ball, while also suggesting limits on how much heading older children should do.

Bascome, the co-founder of the ABC Football Foundation, which coaches children from the ages of 7 to 17, spoke of his refusal to teach heading to younger players and believes the island’s governing body should consider guidelines surrounding the subject.

“We don’t practise heading the ball, especially with the players from 11 and under, no heading at all, I stay away from it,” Bascome, the former Bermuda coach, said.

“From my experience as a coach with young players, we tend to focus predominantly on controlling the ball and teach them the technique basics with the ball.

“There’s also the issues surrounding long-term health effects and I’m sure it could have an effect.

“It is definitely something I take into consideration. For me, heading becomes more part of the game around the under-15 age group.

“You can’t eliminate it altogether because kids will head the ball at times, but we don’t practise it until they’re a stronger in the neck muscles and then we teach proper techniques.

“If the medical specialists are acknowledging the effects it can have on our children later in life, then it is definitely something that should be considered nationwide, I’d certainly be in favour.”

The guidance, which will not yet apply in Wales and will affect training only, follows Glasgow University research that showed former footballers were 3½ times more likely to die from brain disease.

The University of Glasgow study, published in October last year, found that former professional footballers were more likely to die of degenerative brain disease and five times more likely to die from Parkinson’s disease.

There was no evidence in the study that linked incidences of the disease with heading the ball, but the three football associations said the new guidance had been issued to “mitigate against any potential risks”.

“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,” said Mark Bullingham, English FA chief executive to the BBC website.

“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.”

Dr Willie Stewart, the consultant neuropathologist who led the University of Glasgow study, said he was “encouraged” to see the new guidelines.

“A lot more research is needed to understand the factors contributing to increased risk of neurodegenerative disease in footballers,” he said to the BBC. “Meanwhile it is sensible to act to reduce exposure to the only recognised risk factor so far.”

A similar stance, that also includes restrictions during matches, has been in place in the United States since 2015.

The rule change there came after a number of coaches and parents took legal action against the US Soccer Federation.