Heading the Ball to be Banned in Under-11 Football and below in England following Trial

Deliberate heading will be prohibited in matches at under-11 level and below in England, as confirmed by the Football Association. This decision is part of an ongoing effort to “review and improve the safety of our game”.

Over the next three years, heading will gradually be phased out from games involving primary school-aged children, following a two-year trial period. Deliberate headers will be considered an offense punishable with a free-kick, and throw-ins will be replaced by “pass-in/dribble-ins”.

“After two seasons of the Ifab [International Football Association Board] trial in English football, we 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,” stated the FA. “We 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 gradual introduction of the new rule over the next three seasons will support the players’ journey as they adapt from deliberately 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.”

While safety is the primary motivation for the change, the FA also sees an opportunity to enhance children’s skills with the ball at their feet. “Our 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,” added the FA.

The phased implementation will commence with the youngest age groups. Starting from next season, matches involving under-sevens to under-nines will see deliberate headers punished with an indirect free-kick. Deliberate headers in a player’s own penalty area will result in a free-kick awarded “from the nearest side line of the penalty area where the offense took place”.

As for restarts, pass-in/dribble-ins will replace throw-ins, enabling players to restart play and continue with the ball without requiring a touch from a teammate. However, a goal cannot be scored directly from a pass-in. These changes will be extended to under-10s in 2025-26 and under-11s in 2026-27.

Headway, the brain injury charity, praised the decision regarding heading. Luke Griggs, its chief executive, stated: “The FA is demonstrating a commitment to safeguarding the future of the sport. It’s vital that football continues to evolve and adapt in line with emerging evidence in order to safeguard the brain health of professional and amateur players.”