As awareness of head injury risks throughout sports increases, the leading football organizations in England have taken an unprecedented step to reduce this risk in their sport. A newly enacted policy will limit how many high-force headers professional footballers will take.
All Top English Football Organizations Represented
The new policy doesn’t represent action by any one league but is rather a group effort of all major football organizations in England. The English Football League, Football Association (FA), Premier League, Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) and League Managers Association (LMA) have all agreed to immediately enact this policy for the 2021-2022 football season.
Such a show of unity on this topic demonstrates how seriously organizations at the highest levels of English football are taking the issue of headers. Although small and youth organizations might not be officially represented among these major organizations, many others will undoubtedly follow suit.
No More Than 10 High-Force Headers Per Week for Professionals
The official policy is to allow professional football players no more than 10 high-force headers during training in a given week. This represents a significant decrease from what’s the norm in some cases, where several headers may be taken in a single corner kick or free kick practice session.
For the purposes of this policy, high-force headers are defined as headers off of corner kicks, free kicks, crosses and passes over 35 metres. Shorter passes and throw-ins are considered low-force headers.
The policy doesn’t limit headers during games, ensuring that plates can continue to compete as they currently do.
No More Than 10 Headers Per Week for Amateurs
The restriction for amateurs is slightly stricter, allowing no more than 10 headers per week regardless of whether they’re high- or low-force.
The reason to more strictly limit amateurs is partly because football isn’t their career. They’re also less likely to have the neck strength that professional players do, as explained below.
Multiple Studies on Concussions in Football
The new policy is the result of multiple studies on the risk of concussions in football. The research included a series of studies that were commissioned by the Premier League, which has been particularly involved in the protective approach to this issue. The studies looked at past matches, looking at variables ranging from mouthguard technology to neck strength. The University of Central Lancashire also conducted an independent review.
The major distinction between high- and low-force headers is a direct result of this research. The studies found a demonstrable difference with regard to impact. The force of impact is higher when headers are taken at distance and when players are running (e.g. cutting on corners, free kicks and crosses). The force of impact is demonstrably lower when players are standing, passes are shorter or the ball is being tossed (e.g. on throw-ins).
The studies also found that neck strength may play a role in reducing impact. The evidence for this is just beginning to emerge, but there is some suggestion that stronger neck muscles may reduce the force of impact.
A Major Step for Football in England and Globally
The new policy shows how seriously Englands’ professional associations are taking the risk of concussions in football. This is an unprecedented step to mitigate the risk, and it establishes these organizations as not only leaders in England but throughout the world. No other country has taken such a step to address headers.