FOLLOWING research completed by Glasgow University that studied the links between dementia and football, the Scottish Youth Football Association (SYFA) has advised its members to ban under-11s from heading footballs.

The research project discovered that footballers are three-and-a-half times more likely to die from the brain condition as a result of heading footballs regularly.

The SYFA is now urging its members to avoid heading the ball "as far as possible" and "recommends that all training drills which involve heading a ball are removed".

On issuing the new advice Florence Witherow, National Secretary of the SYFA, said: “The SYFA has previously recommended against training drills that encourage repetitive heading of the ball.

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“However, in light of Dr Willie Stewart’s recent study into dementia risks in former professional footballers, we have updated and strengthened the advice to our clubs.

“Any drills which involve heading the ball should be removed from all training sessions for age groups up to, and including, under 11s (7 v 7 teams). As far as possible, heading the ball during games at this age group should also be avoided.”

The move makes the SYFA the first member of the Scottish football family, and one of the first football bodies in Europe, to issue such advice. Although heading the ball is the focus, Witherow went on to stress that any head injury incurred during the course of play should be treated extremely seriously.

She continued: “We would also take this opportunity to remind all of our coaches and officials that if any player, at any age group, is suspected of having a concussion they must immediately cease playing in the game and should not re-join the match. Coaches and officials are reminded of NHS advice on concussion and head injury, and should seek immediate medical advice if symptoms continue or worsen, or if a player is suspected of having lost consciousness.

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“As well as the continuation of our own work in this area, we are keen to engage in further discussions with Dr Stewart around his findings and will continue to work closely with the Scottish FA to make any additional recommendations.

"The SYFA is committed to ensuring the safest environment possible for children and young people to play football. Although there is not yet a definitive link between heading the ball and brain injury, it is essential that we take the relevant precautions to best protect our players.”