There have been a lot of changes to football in recent years and I can’t pretend I’m a fan of them all. While goal-line technology was undoubtedly needed and has been a huge success, there are other alterations which have made the game that little bit worse. The new handball rule just doesn’t do it for me, and its flaws have been magnified by the drama surrounding VAR (which I don’t like either). Another adaptation, which is due to be implemented in Scotland by the beginning of summer, is the removal of heading the ball in U12s football.
This new rule will ban heading in training and games for young footballers until they reach the age of 12. This was after a study at the University of Glasgow found that footballers are 3.5 times more likely to die of neurodegenerative diseases than other members of the public.
However, I still think this ruling is unwise. Heading is such a big part of football and taking it out altogether will make the sport unrecognisable at these age groups. There has been talk of using softballs for practicing until you reach the age of 12, but only starting to learn to head a real football at this age wouldn’t be easy. If kids are that used to heading a softball for so many years, it’ll be a big jump for them to make.
I also think that heading a football should be a choice. Obviously it’s not fair to force that decision on youngsters as they’ll all want to head the ball and won’t understand the possible repercussions. However, that choice should lie with a child’s parents. If you don’t want to put your child at risk, then either tell them not to head the ball or don’t let them take part in football until they’re older. Taking away this element of freedom isn’t what football is about.
I wonder what impact this will have on youth games themselves. I understand that heading isn’t as big a part of matches at this age but there are still crosses, corners and goal kicks to deal with (especially when kids start 11-a-sides at the age of 11). What are they supposed to do when a cross comes into the box and they have to defend it? Just let the opposition score because they’re not allowed to head the ball? It worries me.
Brain injuries are a big deal and I understand the SFA’s concern, but I feel this is a silly route to take. They should focus on educating people, including youngsters, about these kinds of injuries and allow them to make their own decision. Heading is such a key component of football and taking it out at youth level won’t benefit the Scottish game.