Heading a football is too dangerous for children says neuroscientist
Heading a football is too dangerous for children as the force of the ball can cause brain injuries, a top neuroscientist has warned
Children should not 'head the ball' when playing football, a leading expert has said, warning it can cause brain injuries in the young and may affect professional players as well.
The repeated impact affects a child's neck muscles that are not yet fully developed and the brain is still immature meaning it is more vulnerable to damage, Dr Michael Grey, reader in Motor Neuroscience at the University of Birmingham's School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences, has said.
His comments come after new rules published by the Football Association said it is up to the team doctor to decide when a player should carry on if they can should come off the field after a blow to the head.
Several high profile doctors has warned about children heading footballs after scans have shown apparent damage to the brains of professional players. However research and animal experiments have resulted in mixed findings.
One study found 1,000 to 1,500 headers a year as associated with significant brain injury in footballers, the equivalent to a few times a day. However experiments on animals has suggested that even 35 concussions over a two hour period would not cause damage.
Some schools in America have already banned children from heading the ball during games.
Dr Grey said: "I do not think that children should stop sport, the obesity epidemic means we need to encourage them.
"But we do need to look at rule changes and the way we train children.
"Children should not be heading the ball. We don't know at what age children's necks become strong enough to withstand the movement of the head when the head is struck by the ball.
"Some of my colleagues have suggested 14 but I really think it is individual.
"In addition the brain starts to shake and rotates when the head is struck by the ball.
"The brain bounces back and forth and it is the impact of the brain against the inside of the skull causes additional damage."
Jeff Astle West Bromwich Albion striker Jeff Astle died in 2002 from a brain disease and the coroner ruled it as 'industrial disease' suggesting his profession had caused the damage.
A report by MP, Chris Bryant and paralympic gold medalist and member of the House of Lords, Baroness Grey-Thompson, entitled 'Concussion can kill' called for a parliamentary investigation into head injuries in sport and warned that law suits could follow.
Published in June, the report asks if steps can be taken to limit the number of times players had the ball in football, particularly youth players.
It said there should be a set of consistent guidelines across all sports to ensure concussion is diagnosed promptly and the player appropriately treated.
The new FA rules have angered the family of Mr Astle.
Dawn Astle, his daughter, said: "We know what killed dad, the coroner's court said it was industrial disease: heading footballs killed dad and the Football Association just don't acknowledge it.
"Twelve-and-a-half years on, they still haven't acknowledged what killed him.
"We have real worries, not just for current footballers, and of course not just professionals - we're talking about amateurs as well - but about football's future, about the children in the game.
"They need to know the risks, then they can make informed choices."
Mark Gould, a coach who runs Sport4Kids, told Sky News: "There's very little really on coaching heading.
"The traditions that have persevered through the generations are; use your forehead, making sure that you keep your eyes on the ball, and it's common sense really - keep your eyes closed.
"But there's no explicit guidelines given, not at the moment. Any guidance the FA can give is going to be a bonus."
Dr Grey added: "There is a considerable amount of newer evidence coming through showing the need to be concerned.
"Because it is such a new topic in the UK word really hasn’t filtered out properly to the public.
"Our challenge is that because it is such a difficult issue. We know some people are very susceptible to getting head injuries in these situations and some are quite resilient and we don’t know why yet.
"We need to properly educate parents, coaches, referees about secondary concussion syndrome, we need to invest in research but the biggest thing we need to do is follow the existing guidelines, which include a test for players.
"We need to develop good tests based on physiology not behaviour so it is not possible for players to cheat.
"In essence we need to protect players from themselves."