A HELENSBURGH youth football coach says there is a “fine balancing act” between protecting the interests of children and preserving the beautiful game after new guidance was issued advising young players against heading the ball.

The results of a ground-breaking study by the University of Glasgow, led by Dr Willie Stewart, which explored the links between professional footballers and brain disease, were released at the end of October.

The research revealed that former players are three-and-a-half times more likely to die from neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s, prompting calls for the sport’s governing body to take preventative action.

And last week, the Scottish Youth Football Association (SYFA) did just that with controversial new recommendations.

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In official guidance circulated to all member clubs, SYFA national secretary Florence Witherow said: “The SYFA has previously recommended against training drills that encourage repetitive heading of the ball.

“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 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.”

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Although the advice has been heeded by coaches, Helensburgh FC (HFC) chairman Paul Campbell said it could prove problematic.

“It’s maybe a bit of a knee-jerk reaction,” he told the Advertiser.

“Kids’ safety is the most important thing, but I think it needs to be looked at how often kids actually head the ball in training at that age. The balls nowadays are far lighter and are designed for small kids, they are softer, more padded.

“The authorities are only acting on the report, to be fair if they didn’t they would get criticised for not doing so.

“However how do you tell a parent that it’s not ok to header a ball at one age but when they move up to 11-a-side it’s ok to do it?”

The youngest HFC teams start from the 2014 age group (under-sixes) and while Paul can foresee advantages for their development by practising keeping the ball on the ground, there are also difficulties in how it can be enforced.

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He said: “You are never going to stop the ball being played in the air.

“If you take heading out the game completely you are spoiling the game.

“It would definitely encourage the kids to be more comfortable with the ball at their feet, but heading is an art form in itself, so to take it out is wrong.

“With the state the game is in at the moment in Scotland we can’t afford anything else that damages it.

“As a club, we’ve got a duty to the kids to take the guidance on board and do something about it.

“You will always get division among parents, they are always looking out for the best interests for their children, but it’s a fine balance between protecting the kids and protecting the game.”

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