Football pitch viewed through goal netting

New Heading Rules

Heading to be phased out from Under 7 to Under 11 youth grassroots football matches

Following a two season trial across the country, heading is to be phased out from Under 7 to Under 11 youth grassroots football matches over the next three seasons

In 2022, The FA became the first national association to successfully adopt the International Football Association Board [IFAB] trial to remove deliberate heading in grassroots football matches at U12 level and below.

The trial was first introduced in England following steps to bring in heading guidance in youth football in 2020, and the implementation of heading guidance in training across every level of the professional and amateur game in 2021.

After two seasons of the IFAB trial in English football, The FA has confirmed it will now introduce a new rule to phase out deliberate heading in matches in all affiliated grassroots youth football between U7-U11 level over the next three seasons.

This includes all leagues, clubs and any affiliated school football matches – starting with U7-U9 level from the 2024-25 season, then increasing to include U10 level from 2025-26, and U11 level from 2026-27.

The introduction of the new rule follows a consultation and discussion process with representatives across the grassroots game, including the National Game Board, the FA Development Committee and the County FA network. It has also been approved by the FA Board and the FA shareholders, who comprise a wide range of key stakeholders from across English football, with representation from the professional and grassroots game.

Why is the new rule being introduced?

The FA first introduced the IFAB trial with the aim to help positively shape grassroots youth football – and to ensure that matches at this level are aligned to the current heading guidance for training. This was established in 2020 following consultation with the grassroots game, coaches and other experts across football, and recommends that heading is removed or restricted at this level.

The FA also adopted the IFAB trial to help reduce any potential risk factors that may be linked to heading the ball, including injuries from head to head, elbow to head, or head to ground contact.

The FA continue to play a leading role in reviewing and improving the safety of our game. This includes investing in and supporting multiple research projects in adult football to gain a greater insight and understanding of this complex area. During this time, they have worked with stakeholders across English football to review and proactively address potential risk factors which may be associated with football whilst research continues in this area, including ongoing dialogue with the international governing bodies.

The gradual introduction of the new rule over the next three seasons will support the players’ journey as they adapt to heading the ball in grassroots youth football matches. It has been decided that as grassroots players move from primary to secondary school, heading the ball will be introduced at this natural transition point in their U12 season.

Throughout this period, The FA will research, review and analyse the way that it is being implemented to help identify ways of improving the experience for players and referees.

They will also continue to review and evolve the current heading guidance for training to ensure it meets the requirements of the game. This includes providing coaches and players with innovative technical support and guidance so that they can prepare for the transition into heading the ball in youth matches.

Adapting the heading trial for the 2024-25 season

The FA have researched and collected feedback from leagues and clubs taking part in the IFAB trial to remove deliberate heading in grassroots football matches at U12 level and below to see how the experience of the players taking part could be further improved.

Their aim is to also create more technical opportunities for players with the ball at their feet, allow for more effective playing time, and to reduce the amount of time the ball is in the air during a match.

As a result, from the start of the 2024-25 season for U7-U9 teams, the following changes will be rolled out:

  • Deliberately heading the ball is an offence punishable by an indirect free kick
  • When the whole of the ball passes over the whole of the touchline, on the ground or in the air, instead of a throw-in, a pass-in/dribble-in is awarded
  • From the start of the 2024-25 season, there will be no disciplinary sanctions applied for a deliberate header in a match, unless the action is considered a persistent deliberate offence, which could then result in a caution

Working with the grassroots game to implement the new rule

We will work with leagues, clubs, coaches, referees and schools across our county, supporting those who will play a key part in helping to implement the new rule. In conjunction with this announcement, The FA will be providing the relevant guidance to support successful implementation of the new rule from the start of next season. Some initial resources can be found below: