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Japan Football Association sets guidelines for under-16s on how to practice heading

This image photo shows a soccer ball. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

TOKYO -- The Japan Football Association (JFA) formulated guidelines on May 13 for under-16s showing how to practice heading the ball according to their age in a bid to avoid injuries.

    Some countries have banned young players heading due to fears that the impact may lead to concussion or cognitive impairment, but the JFA says, "It is necessary to learn the correct technique for the future, and to learn step by step with intensity and in ways that cause less damage to the brain. In order to avoid risks, we should not ban it, but 'show it appropriate respect.'"

    The guidelines recommend that preschoolers practice getting used to using balloons or rolled-up newspaper balls on their foreheads, and that first- and second-graders practice in a playful way, such as hitting a lightweight rubber ball 10 times in a row with their foreheads.

    Third- and fourth-grade students will have the opportunity to head the ball in eight-a-side games, so they will be introduced to training where two players jump at the same time and fight for the ball in the air with their hands. From the fifth and sixth grade, repetitive practice with a small soccer ball will be gradually introduced. For junior high school students, the guidelines stipulate that they should strengthen their core body and neck area and learn to head with the correct posture.

    On the matter of heading, the University of Glasgow in the U.K. released a study in 2019 that found that professional soccer players have more than three times the risk of dying from neurodegenerative diseases than the general public.

    In the fall of 2020, the family of former England national team player Bobby Charlton announced that he had developed dementia, and a causal relationship from playing football was suspected.

    In Japan, a controversial incident occurred during the January Grand Sumo Tournament this year when a makushita division wrestler suffered concussion at the start of a bout, causing the match to be suspended, but he went on to compete again in the same event.

    The guidelines announced by England's Football Association last year prohibit heading practice for under-12s in principle, but not during matches. The JFA worked with doctors and researchers to investigate the frequency of heading in matches and training sessions by age group, and also conducted interviews with former national team players and coaches to determine the content of the guidelines.

    (Japanese original by Motokazu Oyatsu, Sports News Department)

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