Yarra Jets coaches and players (from left) Duncan Ryan, Matthew Barlow, Noah Barlow, Miley Conway, Tommie Conway, Gabriella Martin and Clody Conway at George Knott Reserve. Picture: Hamish Blair
Yarra Jets coaches and players (from left) Duncan Ryan, Matthew Barlow, Noah Barlow, Miley Conway, Tommie Conway, Gabriella Martin and Clody Conway at George Knott Reserve. Picture: Hamish Blair

Why junior soccer club banned ‘heading’ practice

A suburban soccer club will be one of the first in the country to ban heading drills at training for players aged 12 and under with a leading coach claiming the practice poses serious health risks.

Yarra Jets is one of Victoria's biggest junior soccer clubs and technical director Duncan Ryan believes repeatedly heading a football can lead to serious illnesses such as Alzheimers and dementia later in life.

Heading will only be banned during training at the Fairfield club, with the skill still allowed during matches.

The US, England and Scotland Football Associations have already banned the practice and Ryan wants Australia to follow suit.

"The evidence is quite overwhelming. The damage that can be done - short-term and long-term - it's too much," Ryan said.

"We're not banning heading (outright), they can still head the ball in a game, we can't stop the ball going in the air.

 

(From left) Yarra Jets technical director Duncan Ryan with players Clody Conway, Miley Conway and Noah Barlow. Picture: Hamish Blair
(From left) Yarra Jets technical director Duncan Ryan with players Clody Conway, Miley Conway and Noah Barlow. Picture: Hamish Blair

 

Matildas star Sam Kerr wins a header against China.
Matildas star Sam Kerr wins a header against China.

 

"In reality, they're not missing out on anything. Stats from the English FA says there's an average of two headers per game in 11-year-olds and under."

Ryan is one of Australia's most credentialed coaches and is also on the Technical and Health and Wellbeing sub-committees of national coaches association, Football Coaches Australia.

Ryan recently returned from a conference in America, where former Scotland international and Premier League coach Malky Mackay addressed the impact of repeat heading drills on young players.

Research shows a heading session can damage memory recall between 41 per cent and 67 per cent for 24-36 hours.

Former England captain Dave Watson was recently diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, while ex-Scotland captain Billy McNeil passed away from the illness, with both cases believed to have been caused by heading of a football.

 

Yarra Jets coaches and players (from left) Duncan Ryan, Matthew Barlow, Noah Barlow, Miley Conway, Tommie Conway, Gabriella Martin and Clody Conway. Picture: Hamish Blair
Yarra Jets coaches and players (from left) Duncan Ryan, Matthew Barlow, Noah Barlow, Miley Conway, Tommie Conway, Gabriella Martin and Clody Conway. Picture: Hamish Blair

 

Ryan hopes the FFA can follow the US and England's lead and restrict junior players' risk of brain damage.

"I don't know that it will happen here because the Football Federation Australia is sitting on their hands a little bit," he said.

"I hope people take the decision like I am and they'll look at the evidence and see it is overwhelming.

"The more people that do it, then the Football Federation will be forced to act. It's something that's got to happen."

Ryan will also remove heading from training at Kew's Xavier College and Parkville College in the Malmsbury Youth Justice Centre, where he is co-ordinates football programs.



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