While it will still be permitted during games, heading will be prohibited during training the day before and after contests. Football clubs are also instructed to conduct only one session per week of repetitive heading-based training activities.
The Scottish Football Association (SFA) surveyed clubs to determine future trends and then held consultations with 50 clubs representing the professional men's and women's games in Scotland.
Following concerns tying the practice to dementia and other ailments, health professionals have examined a component of the game called heading.
Researchers from Glasgow University found that former football players had a three-and-a-half times higher risk of dying from a brain disorder, and they theorized that this risk may be related to the frequent heading of the ball. The training system is now configured to track heading activity.
The SFA restricted heading in youth football in 2020, banning it during practice for players under the age of 12. With the "if in doubt, sit them out" campaign, Scotland became the first country in the world to implement concussion rules for all sports.
Others have subsequently followed, with the English FA establishing rules for teams that restrict players to ten high-impact headers each week during practice.
The Scottish FA polled several SPFL and SWPL clubs to learn more about the customs of the professional game. More than 70% of managers and coaches participated in a follow-up survey in favor of introducing heading rules. Another recent player study conducted in collaboration with PFA Scotland found that the majority of players (64%) thought heading should be restricted in practice.
The Scottish FA's chief executive, Ian Maxwell, stated: "The historic University of Glasgow study (FIELD), which discovered an increased risk of neurodegenerative disease in retired professional footballers, compared to a matched population control group, has been a catalyst for a radical rethink of football advice, starting in the youth game with the introduction of the heading guidelines for kids between the ages of six and 17 in 2020.”
The Scottish FA said at the time that this research should have an international as well as the national impact on how adults view the game. “I appreciate the clubs, coaches, managers, and players in the professional game who contributed to the most recent study that resulted in the creation of these new proposals.”
"We hope that these rules will be followed and put into practice right away. The release of these rules today demonstrates our continuous dedication to player welfare.”
It is important to reiterate that while the FIELD study was not intended to identify the causes of this increased risk, both head injury and head trauma have been suggested as potential contributing factors to neurodegenerative disease. Dr. John MacLean, an SFA physician who was involved in the 2019 study, said:
While research on heading and its effects on the brain is still in its early stages, what is known so far indicates that there is a measurable memory impairment lasting 24 to 48 hours after a series of headers and that brain-related proteins can be found in blood samples for a short period after heading.
Footballers have also reportedly experienced abnormalities in their brain scans that could be related to heading. By decreasing the overall exposure to heading in training, the aim is to minimize any potential cumulative effect of heading.
"The new rules are a positive step forward in terms of how football safeguards the brain health of players," said Luke Griggs, interim chief executive of the brain injury charity Headway. “Football has always been resistant to change, so this willingness to modify procedures and conform to new scientific findings is encouraging.”
Several well-known former footballers, notably former Celtic captain Billy McNeill and former England World Cup winner and Republic of Ireland manager Jack Charlton, have passed away from dementia in recent years.
The most recent study, according to Andy Gould, the chief football officer of the SFA, was "invaluable in establishing the extent of heading load inside the training environment."
"I am grateful to the clubs, managers, and players for providing us with the information and viewpoints required to facilitate an informed and data-driven dialogue," he added. “I appreciate that these suggestions have been made public in order to protect our athletes' health and welfare”.