Safety in children's sports

Safety in children's sports


Did anyone see the programme presented by alan Shearer on Sunday night? Dementia & football: PFA tells Alan Shearer it is unsure on numbers. Essentially, there seems to be a link between heading the ball, especially when young, and dementia in later life. The theory goes that knocking the brain around as a child and young adult will cause damage - which seems obvious to me.

The reaction in the States has been to ban heading the ball for children under 11 (although carrying hand guns and automatic rifles seems to be fine, but that’s another argument).

I have two young boys. The oldest plays rugby pretty much exclusively. That’s his interest. He does the other sports at school when he has to, but all he really cares about is rugby. There are a host of issues there and that game at youth level ha changed massively since I was a kid.

My youngest boy plays rugby but also plays a lot of football. He scored a headed goal just the other day. So, should we tighten up the rules on heading the ball in football. Feel free to open this up to other sports in which your kids participate.

The whole programme (about an hour long) can be found here on iPlayer. I thought it was a well put together programme, balancing the science with personal stories and interviews with people like John Terry and Les Ferdinand. Shearer is a good presenter and has a chat with Chris Nicholl about when he managed Southampton and shearer was starting his career.

(Be ready, though. These guys may have loads of money but the old adage is true - you can’t buy taste and that applies to home furnishings as much as anything else!)


My Mum has Dementia.

She never played football…


In the programme, they make this point and the PFA say they need to do a random standardised study to see whether the incidence of dementia is higher among football players than it is in the general population. Frankly, I’m amazed this hasn’t already been done.


I can believe the old leather football could have an effect; it was like heading a medicine ball once they were soaked. I was a CF and it was part of my stock in trade but of course as an amateur we weren’t exposed to the endless heading in training the pros went through.

Today’s footballs are generally lighter and don’t soak up water as the used to. There were quite a few sad cases of demential in old footballers but of course no real way of proving heading a football was the route cause. Shearer’s brain scan showed no signs of historic damage so is he just lucky…I think not.

As for restrictions on kids heading a football, I think the American’s ban is an over reaction but perhaps an understandable one.

At the moment nobody has the answer.


I agree it was an excellent and thought-provoking documentary. The most shocking thing is that the coroner at Jeff Astle’s funeral said he died from dementia and that heading the ball had significantly contributed to this.

Since this revelation, until right now, no one has done anything at all to look into this further.

Jeff Astle died in 2002.


I heard a discussion about this on the radio some months back.

They had a former pro, and some sort of doctor who specialised in such things.

The former pro, made the point you have made above.

The doctor commented that more often than not, once you take the speed the ball is travelling into account, it makes very little difference in terms of the damage it can cause to the brain.

I don’t have all the facts, but I can’t imagine the doctor would have said this without some basis.

In my opinion, the sport has a duty of care to protect those taking part as best they can. Particularly so when it comes to kids being involved. It’s right that this is being investigated, and it’s proper that the relevant authorities do examine any possible links and take needed steps to protect those playing however they can.


I’m surprised he says there is no difference between the type of football being used. I’m certainly not here to contradict a medical expert but from personal experience heading a wet leather football was the only time I “saw stars” and suffered a painful headache for the rest of the game. That never happened to me heading a plastic coated ball.


Can you imagine if they did ban heading in football. I mean the handball laws are confusing enough as it is.

Headball Ref!! But it wasn’t deliberate, it was ball to head.


Exactly…if you ban heading in football how about the scrum in Rugby or loose rucking?


I think this is really about the academies. My youngest son is 9. He plays for a little club on Saturday mornings and does a bit of football at clubs. They’ve never done heading practice and, in matches, if a high ball comes in, they’ll try to head the ball and occasionally make contact, but he might head the ball perhaps two or three times a week.

In academies, I guess they do intensive training in all aspects of the game and part of that will be repetitious heading of a ball travelling at speed. In this case, I suppose the repeated minor concussion might have an impact on the children. Just imagine smacking your child on the head over and over again for half an hour. Would you do it?


Rugby is very carefully controlled. By the time I got to secondary school, we were playing full rugby, 15-a-side, scurmmaging and everything.

My oldest boy has just started secondary school and has been playing club rugby for 4 years. They now play 12-a-side (no back row), scrums are uncontested and rucking and mauling is very carefully controlled. There are no line outs, no kicking for goal and no hand offs.


I do quite regularly, especially when he’s being a little shit!!

Quite therapeutic actually :lou_lol:


All seems very overprotective. Do they take it it turns to score tries? I only played rugball twice at school and got concussed both times, never did me any harm and I turned out just fish and chips with crunchy lawnmower.


Yep I’ll accept there is a need for regulating children’s sport in their formative years but there has to come a stage where they’re exposted to the adult game. You either assimilate children into the physicalality of the adult game or change the adult game. I don’t think anyone would want to ban heading or scrums or dilute the physicality of either game without firm proof.

Neither two of the greatest headers of a football in my lifetime, Ron Davies and John Charles showed any signs of dementia. Hardly conclusive evidence I know but until there’s results from an intensive study I can’t see any changes being made in the adult game.