Football: Headers may not be for pre-teens

Football: Headers may not be for pre-teens
Around 300 kids turned up with their parents in tow to take part in the Football Association of Singapore's (FAS) Junior Centre of Excellence (JCOE) trials for Under-8s and Under-10s.
PHOTO: Courtesy of FAS

Dele Alli's double header to help Tottenham beat Chelsea 2-0 in the English Premiership last week must have inspired football-loving children around the world to master the art.

But a study by the University of Stirling in the United Kingdom last October yielded results that were not just mind-boggling, but also brain-numbing.

They found memory performance was reduced by between 41 per cent and 67 per cent in the 24 hours after players headed a football 20 times, off the pace and power of a corner kick.

While memory function returned to normal 24 hours later, and the research cannot be used to make specific recommendations about children, there is anecdotal evidence of former players suffering from serious brain conditions.

At least three of the surviving seven outfield players - Nobby Stiles, Martin Peters and Ray Wilson - from England's 1966 World Cup-winning team are suffering from Alzheimer's or significant memory loss.

This has prompted England's Professional Footballers' Association to call for the ban of heading for children under 10, taking the cue from their American counterparts who had done so earlier, reported British daily The Telegraph.

CONCERN

In Singapore, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) has adopted a cautious approach in its grassroots programme which includes Under-8 and Under-10 categories.

Mr Basir Ellaya Kutty, FAS' head of coach education and junior centres of excellence, told The New Paper: "The safety of our footballers is of the utmost importance to the FAS.

"This is reflected in our various practices, including training methodologies."

Under the FAS' Youth Development Plan, children play small-sided games that focus on passing and dribbling. Players move on to full 11-a-side games only at the age of 13.

Mr Bashir said the rules of the small-sided games are modified to minimise long balls.

"For example, goalkeepers are required to pass the ball short to their teammates, and for players up to the age of nine, there are kick-ins rather than throw-ins," he said.

"Training sessions for our children exclude the possible danger arising from heading high or long balls."

Parents here are taking a measured approach when told about these latest development.

Former national captain, Razali Saad, whose son is 18, felt heading should be banned only if the findings are conclusive.

He said: "When I was a kid, the ball was of a different size, the material was different and it was heavier.

"Of course, it did hurt, especially if you don't have the right technique.

"But the more we trained, the better we got and it didn't hurt anymore.

"We headed the ball when necessary and I have never heard of any case of brain damage among local footballers."

He said his son started playing football from a young age and he had no problems with letting him head the ball when he needed to.

LOGIC

Engineer Cheong Chee Kong, 40, who has a six-year-old son, Aden, added: "I may still let him head the ball if he is just playing once in a while.

"If it is proven that it's causing damage to adults, it's logical to think that it will do more damage to a child's brain when the skull is still developing."

Local football academies The New Paper spoke to have also taken precautionary measures to prevent injuries that may arise from headers. (See report at right.)

But world football governing body Fifa is unlikely to impose a blanket ban worldwide.

In response to TNP's queries, its spokesman said: "For more than 15 years, Fifa's Medical Assessment and Research Centre (F-Marc) has been actively following the issue of head and brain injuries, publishing scientific studies in peer-reviewed journals in collaboration with International Sports Federations and research groups.

"To our very best knowledge, there is currently no true evidence of the negative effect of heading or other sub-concussive blows."

The spokesman added that results from studies on active and former professional football players in relation to brain function are inconclusive.

davidlee@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Jan 10, 2017.
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