Guidance limits high-impact headers in EPL team training

LONDON (AP) — Premier League players and others should be limited to 10 “higher force” headers per week in training under new guidance for the upcoming season.

The Football Association, the Premier League, the English Football League, the Women’s Super League, the League Managers Association, and the Professional Footballers Association announced the guidance in a joint statement on Wednesday.

The recommendations apply to each level of England’s professional pyramid — with further guidance for amateurs — in an effort to limit the risk of brain injuries.

The guidance focuses on training sessions, “where the majority of heading occurs,” and is the result of preliminary studies that identified the varying forces involved in heading a ball. The initial focus is on “higher force” headers.

“These are typically headers following a long pass (more than 35 meters) or from crosses, corners and free kicks,” the statement said.

“It will be recommended that a maximum of 10 higher force headers are carried out in any training week,” it said. “This recommendation is provided to protect player welfare and will be reviewed regularly as further research is undertaken to understand more regarding the impact of heading in football.”

The average number of higher-force headers that had been occurring in training was not specified.

Clubs will be asked to also develop player profiles to track gender, age, position, the number of headers per match, and the nature of the headers.

The guidance identifies safer heading techniques for training sessions.

“Early evidence suggests lower forces are produced when a ball is thrown to a player rather than kicked, and when a player heads the ball from a standing jump rather than running onto the ball,” it said.

Researchers gathered data from special mouth guards that measured the acceleration of headers in training. They also reviewed every header from each match in the 2019-20 Premier League season.

“Data demonstrates that central defenders have on average a higher number of headers per match compared to other positions, across all professional football, and the highest average headed forces per match in the Premier League,” the Premier League said in a related statement.

A Scottish study published in 2019 found former professional players there were less likely to die of common causes such as heart disease and cancer compared with the general population but more likely to die with dementia. A reaction to that study was a ban being introduced on children up to the age of 12 from heading a ball in training sessions in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

PFA chief executive Maheta Molango welcomed the guidance but noted more needs to be done.

“The introduction of this guidance represents one part of developing a coordinated game-wide strategy and needs to be combined with other areas, such as improvement in head injury management and greater collective support for retired players,” Molango said in the joint statement.

“Critically, the guidance is only a first step,” he added. “As identified within the paper, more research is required to improve how we protect current players and future generations.”

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