The Scottish Football Association believes now was the right time to act after telling clubs that players should not head the ball in the days immediately prior to and after games.
The governing body has issued new training guidelines to all clubs north of the border, professional and amateur, following further research into concussion and the impact of heading on the brain.
The principle recommendation is that no heading drills should take place in training sessions on what the game refers to as MD-1 and MD+1 – namely the days before and after matches.
Clubs should also limit training exercises involving repeated heading to once per week and heading activity should be monitored to ensure it is reduced overall.
The SFA previously introduced guidelines limiting heading in children’s and youth football in 2020 following research from the University of Glasgow which indicated that footballers faced increased risk of neurodegenerative disease.
The latest measures come after further studies conducted with the Hampden Sports Clinic.
They do not constitute an outright ban but are effective immediately and, after consulting with 50 clubs in the process of its work, the SFA expects them to be strongly supported.
Dr John MacLean, the SFA’s chief medical consultant, said: “We were pleasantly surprised how little negative feedback there was in the clubs.
“Surveys of players and coaches have been been supportive and (there is) a great willingness to alter and change training programmes.
“That’s part of why we’ve come up with the three key points of the guidelines that we have.
“It’s trying to get us all to work together in the game to try and reduce the incidences of dementia in the future.
“If we waited for another 40 years to the next lot of science, then we would have missed the boat so we’re really keen on safeguarding the health and wellbeing of these players.”
The latest study has used data and insights from across the men’s and women’s adult games. A survey also indicated 70 per cent of managers and coaches and 64 per cent of players supported further guidelines being introduced.
The SFA insists it has no intention of trying to drive heading out of the game, and that is something that would be outside of its jurisdiction anyway. It believes, however, its approach strikes a good balance.
Dr MacLean added: “Heading is part of football and, at least for the near future, will continue.
“Our drive through training is to reduce unnecessary heading. What happens regarding banning and matches is for others to decide.”
The latest steps taken by the SFA have been welcomed by external bodies.
Luke Griggs, interim chief executive at brain injury charity Headway, said: “The new guidelines are a positive step forwards in terms of how football protects the brain health of players.
“Football has traditionally been fearful of change, so this willingness to evolve protocols and adapt to emerging research is a welcome development.
“If this initiative is to be a success, the new rules have to be accompanied by an educational campaign that seeks to win hearts and minds. We have to get buy-in at all levels of the game so that players, coaches and parents all understand and support the sound logic behind this sensible move.”
Lauren Pulling, chief executive of the Drake Foundation, which has funded several studies into concussion in football, said: “We’re really pleased to see the announcement made today to reduce players’ exposure to head impacts.
“While we don’t yet know all the facts when it comes to the links between football and long-term brain disease risk, we know enough to say that precautionary action should be taken by the sport’s governing bodies while research continues, so this is a great positive step from the Scottish FA.
“In the last week alone, we’ve seen incredibly poor management of head injuries in football on the international stage, so this new development is very welcome, and we congratulate the teams that have made this happen.”
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