With mounting international concerns surrounding the reported link between neurological disorders and heading footballs, a call has been made to the sport’s governing body in Barbados to put limits on how much juniors are allowed to head the football during training sessions.
Sports administrator Roland Butcher who was the first black footballer to play for Stevenage, a town in Hertfordshire, England, believes that the Barbados Football Association (BFA) has to take serious action in this regard if they are to safeguard the long-term development of its players.
Butcher’s advice came a day after Manchester United football legend Denis Law revealed that he has been diagnosed with dementia. He is among a growing list of ex-followers battling a similar condition believed to be associated with years of protracted heading of the football.
During an interview Butcher told Barbados TODAY he was unaware of any such protocols that the BFA had currently in place but he believed they needed to. Acknowledging that heading is a very important part of football, he stressed that the skulls of young players are still developing, so when they head the ball matter inside their heads is being impacted, so particularly those between the age range of seven and 16 have to be guarded against this and this could be done by minimising the amount of heading.
“I think that [training] is where you have to put the most limits on because in a game you won’t head the ball that often. But generally in practice you are practising to make perfect so it means that you are repeating a skill over and over again. So that’s where it needs to be controlled. It means [there is a need for] better and further education for our coaches to understand the dangers of heading footballs and you need to find a way to police club training. Because if a club has a coach who is not properly trained he will do what he feels is best, not necessarily what is proven to be best,” Butcher said.
“So the BFA has an important role to play in that. They are in charge of coaching education and part of the coaching education going forward has to be not just coaching coaches how to run sessions and do drills but the welfare of players is very, very important. Just like when you are developing the player you don’t give a nine-year-old the level of work that you would give to a 15-year-old or the same type of drills and intensity, I think the same thing has to be applied in relation to heading,” he added.
The former Barbados and England cricketer, while recommending the BFA institute a system for its officials to randomly attend the training sessions of clubs which are affiliated to the body, he suggested that strict sanctions be enforced if its guidelines are not upheld. So that in a case where the affiliated club is deemed in breach of the mandate surrounding proper training practices, that club would not be allowed to register with the BFA and the footballing body would relieve itself of the responsibility of the club.
“That’s where the BFA’s role has to play in educating coaches, educating players and then monitoring the behaviours of the coaches that have come through their system, monitoring their behaviour in relation to this topic particularly with junior players,” Butcher said.
In his coaching manual Achieving Excellence: Caribbean Soccer published last year, Butcher suggested that around the age of 7-9 coaches could introduce to players basic heading which would be an effort to properly teach them before they did it incorrectly and injure themselves. However, he stressed that it was not to be used as an extensive training programme and a whole session should never be spent on heading.
“You can’t look only as far as the player’s playing career- from the time he is a kid until he stops playing. Long-term for me goes beyond that, it goes after you are finished because in all sports the major part of your life comes after you finish. If you are lucky to have a good career it may be for 10 years but you have effectively finished in your early 30s at best, and then you’ve got another 30 odd years. . . of your working life until you reach retirement at age 67. So we have to, as administrators, be mindful of that and try to assist the players while they are playing so that when they are finished they are still able to have some degree of a good life,” the administrator emphasised.
Just last month the English Premier League and other governing bodies placed a limit on the number of high-force headers in training to 10 per week from the 2021-22 season, according to them, “to protect players”. This follows last year’s introduction of guidelines by the national governing body for football in England that restricted children aged 11 and under from being taught to head footballs during training in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. (KC)