A growing number of football managers are calling for a reduction of heading the ball in training over fears it may lead to dementia when they are older.
England legend Nobby Stiles and many of his 1966 World Cup winning teammates were diagnosed with dementia before their deaths while Manchester United great Bobby Charlton, 83, disclosed his diagnosis recently.
Stiles’ family hoped it would be a catalyst for addressing dementia while Geoff Hurst, England’s hat-trick hero from the 1966 final, said heading the ball often in practice was dangerous and kids should not be doing it at all.
“If they find out through the research that heading the ball 10 times during training is going to cause you dementia, then let’s stop it,” West Bromwich Albion boss Slaven Bilic said.
“For me, the great thing is they are talking about it and recognising it.”
Chelsea’s Frank Lampard said he is now considering how his players train and favoured rules to curb heading in youth football before implementing guidelines higher up the pyramid.
“The rules need to be stronger to make sure we’re not making younger children head it if they don’t need to,” Lampard said.
“We have to start with youth football. When children are developing, we can control the levels of training. Anything we can do to make things safer, we should.”
Former Barcelona and England star Gary Lineker has also called for new regulations to prevent children heading balls.
Aston Villa manager Dean Smith, whose father was diagnosed with dementia before he died of COVID-19, echoed Bilic’s views about needing more research.
“Dementia and Alzheimer’s is more prevalent throughout the world now unfortunately, but I think if there is a correlation between heading a football and dementia then we need to do something,” Smith said.
“The balls were heavier back then. We are all saddened about the former players who are suffering with dementia.”
The union representing soccer players in England called for balls to be headed less in training.
The decision by the Professional Footballers’ Association followed a meeting of its management committee which assessed research into dementia and neurodegenerative diseases.
“Science has been developing quickly in this area, and we need to make an urgent intervention based on the evidence that is available now,” PFA chairman Ben Purkiss said.
“A reduction of heading in training is a practical and straightforward step. We will be engaging with members, former members and their families to work on this area within the scope of the PFA’s new advisory group, where decisions will be made on the basis of expert advice.”