Background to the trial

There are concerns about the potential negative impact on players’ short- and long-term health/welfare with regard to potential head injuries resulting from:

  • deliberately heading the ball
  • being accidentally hit on the head with the ball (especially unexpectedly or from short range)
  • attempts to head the ball (especially ‘aerial challenges’) that lead to the head making contact with
    • another player’s body (elbow, head, etc.)
    • the ground
    • a goalpost

These concerns are exacerbated when children are involved, as their bodies, brains and motor skills are still developing and they may not have the physiological strength or the expertise to reduce potential risks. Consequently, some football authorities have already introduced restrictions on heading in practice/training for younger players and it is therefore logical to extend such restrictions to matches.

Although a ban on deliberate heading may remove some risks, it might also increase others, e.g. players trying to kick ‘high’ balls, which could result in the kicker being injured (e.g. by falling awkwardly) or injuring another player by kicking them in the head or upper body.

Therefore, decisions about heading bans must take into account the relative risks of heading at different ages, whether a ban inadvertently results in other risks and the major impact that banning heading at all levels would have on the way football is played.

Considering the importance of this matter, The IFAB has approved a trial to investigate the effects of ‘deliberate heading’ becoming an offence punishable by an indirect free kick.* The trial will be conducted in competitions and matches at U-12 level and below, where there are restrictions on heading in practice/training.

*It was felt that in the initial stages, a direct free kick (and especially a penalty for a header in the penalty area) would be too harsh for such young players.

Trial protocol

The trial protocol has been approved by The IFAB and must be used in its entirety. No variations are allowed except as outlined in the protocol.

Protocol A

Participation and requirements

The trial protocol must be used in full by all participating competitions. Confederations and national FAs (on behalf of the competitions under their auspices) must apply to The IFAB for permission to take part in the trial.

Data/information required as part of the participation in the trial

Competitions participating in the trial will be required to collect a range of data and feedback for submission to The IFAB, with the exact details and methodology still to be determined.

Participating competitions

Currently, the trial is being held in England and the US in competitions involving players aged twelve and below. The trial is also open to all other competitions and federations, provided they receive permission from The IFAB, comply with the protocol and submit the required data and feedback information.