PRIMARY-SCHOOL age children are to be banned from heading the ball in training sessions under new Scottish Football Association (SFA) rules.

A graduated approach will be introduced for children aged between 12 and 17, with limits on the amount of heading allowed.

The move follows a Glasgow University study which showed former footballers are three and a half times more likely to die of neurodegenerative disease than age-matched members of the general population.

Rules on heading in matches will not be changed, as the SFA took into consideration the very limited number of headers that actually happen in youth games. 

The football associations of Scotland, England and Northern Ireland all issued statements today confirming their changes, which will be implemented immediately.

READ MORE: SFA consider banning children from heading footballs

Ian Maxwell, SFA chief executive, said: "While it is important to re-emphasise there is no research to suggest that heading in younger age groups was a contributory factor in the findings of the FIELD study into professional footballers, nevertheless Scottish football has a duty of care to young people, their parents and those responsible for their well-being throughout youth football.

"The updated guidelines are designed to help coaches remove repetitive and unnecessary heading from youth football in the earliest years, with a phased introduction at an age group considered most appropriate by our medical experts.

"It is important to reassure that heading is rare in youth football matches but we are clear that the guidelines should mitigate any potential risks.

"We will also look to monitor and review the guidance as part of our commitment to making the national game a safe and enjoyable environment for young people."

He added: "I would like to thank our colleagues at the English FA for their collaboration in this process and UEFA's Medical Committee for their guidance."

The new guidelines warn heading should not be introduced in training sessions from the age of six through to 11, and should be considered a low coaching priority between the ages of 12 to 15 - but training sessions can be introduced at that point. However, these should be limited to one session of no more than five headers per week at 13 years old and increasing to 10 headers per sessions at 14 and 15.

For 16 and 17-year-olds it is recommended heading should be restricted to one training session and that coaches should be mindful of limiting repetitions during that session.

Dr Willie Stewart, consultant neuropathologist and honorary clinical associate professor at the University of Glasgow, and leader of the FIELD study, said: "I'm encouraged to see these changes being made FA, SFA and NIFA youth football.

"A lot more research is needed to understand the factors contributing to increased risk of neurodegenerative disease in footballers.

"Meanwhile, it is sensible to act to reduce exposure to the only recognised risk factor so far."

Dr Stewart added: "As such, measures to reduce exposure to unnecessary head impacts and risk of head injury in sport are a logical step.

"I would, however, like to see these proposals introduced as mandatory, rather than voluntary as present, and a similar approach to reduce heading burden adopted in the wider game of football, not just in youth football."