English Football Heading Guidance

Updated Heading Guidance for English Football

Extending from grassroots through to the professional game from the start of the 2021-22 season

English football introduces Heading Guidance across every level of the game ahead of the 2021-22 season

This includes new heading guidance for both the adult amateur and professional game, in addition to the guidance for youth football which was introduced last year and has also been updated.

Specifically focused on training sessions where the majority of heading occurs, the guidance has been designed to meet the requirements of each level of English football.

This means there is now specific guidance applicable to clubs from the Premier League right through to grassroots football, as well as across the England national teams.

Heading Guidance for Youth Football

Research has shown that heading is rare in youth football matches, so coaches should use the time they have with players to maximise enjoyment and development of other skills, particularly the fundamentals of working with the ball in their hands and feet.

This guidance helps reduce and remove repetitive and unnecessary heading from youth football, with no heading in training in the Foundation Phase and a graduated approach to heading for children in the Development Phase.

These recommendations have been developed to protect player welfare. As further research is undertaken this guidance will be reviewed and updated to reflect increased understanding.


Heading Guidance for Adult Amateur Football

The guidance for adult amateur grassroots football includes clubs up to and including Step 5 of the National League System and Tiers 3 and below of the Women’s Football Pyramid and is specifically tailored for this level of the game.

The aim of this guidance is to reduce overall exposure to heading without compromising development of technique and the role heading plays in the English game. The role of the coach in supporting players’ skill development for heading is to ensure a safe and controlled technique.

It is recommended that heading practice is limited to ten headers per session and only one session a week where heading practice is included. Players should be responsible for monitoring their own heading activity.

These recommendations have been developed to protect player welfare. As further research is undertaken this guidance will be reviewed and updated to reflect increased understanding.


Heading Guidance in Professional Football

The guidance for the professional game has been developed following multiple studies undertaken in recent months on behalf of a subgroup of the Professional Football Negotiating and Consultative Committee (PFNCC).

The preliminary studies identified the varying forces involved in heading a football, which were provided to a cross-football working group to help shape the guidance. Based on those early findings, which showed the majority of headers involve low forces, the initial focus of the guidance will be on headers that involve higher forces. These are typically headers following a long pass (more than 35m) or from crosses, corners and free kicks.

It will be recommended that a maximum of ten higher force headers are carried out in any training week. This recommendation is provided to protect player welfare and will be reviewed regularly as further research is undertaken to understand more regarding the impact of heading in football.

The guidance also recommends that clubs develop player profiles that consider gender, age, playing position, the number of headers per match and the nature of these headers. These profiles can be used to ensure that all training sessions reflect the type and quantity of headers that a player could expect to undertake within a match. Club staff will also be encouraged to work with players following each match to ensure they have adequate time to recover from their heading exposure.

The guidance also identifies ways in which heading techniques may still be practised while reducing the forces involved. Early evidence suggests lower forces are produced when a ball is thrown to a player rather than kicked, and when a player heads the ball from a standing jump rather than running onto the ball.

The Premier League, in conjunction with partners including the LMA, will provide further guidance to club staff on ways in which they might adapt practices. Clubs in the National League System Steps 1-4 and Women’s Championship are encouraged to follow this guidance where practicable.

Early but limited evidence from these initial studies suggested that neck muscle strength may be a contributing factor to higher force transmission from heading. A strength and conditioning expert advisory group will identify ways in which neck and torso strength can be developed safely across the professional game.

The guidance has been developed using a precautionary approach to protect player welfare where scientific evidence is limited and will be kept under review.

The evidence gathering has increased understanding of the forces involved in heading, while also identifying areas that require further exploration. The Premier League with its football partners will deliver expanded research in season 2021-22 to facilitate a formal review of the guidance by the PFNCC in June 2022.


On the release of the new guidance FA Chief Executive Mark Bullingham said:

“We already have the most comprehensive guidelines in the world for youth football and now we are introducing, in partnership with the other football bodies, the most comprehensive adult football guidelines anywhere. Our heading guidance now reaches across all players, at all levels of the game.

These measures have been developed following studies with coaches and medics and represent a cautious approach whilst we learn more. We are committed to further medical research to gain an understanding of any risks within football, in the meantime this reduces a potential risk factor.

Overall, it's important to remember that the overwhelming medical evidence is that football and other sports have positive impacts on both mental and physical health".