People who follow the news cannot help but notice the increase in stories about dementia in footballers who sustained one or more concussions in their playing career. The more that medical researchers investigate the connection, the more obvious it becomes that repeated heading of a ball is a leading factor in serious neurodegenerative disease later in life. Although researchers do not yet fully understand how a concussion in football causes these problems, they cannot deny the reality of the situation.
Research Results Cause Pro Sports Leagues to Change Concussion Protocols
The Drake Foundation is just one of several organisations in the United Kingdom that has dedicated funds to researching the problem of concussion in football in recent years. Football organisations such as the Professional Footballers Association and the Football Association made prompt changes to league policies to ensure that players who sustain a concussion in football in the future do not face such a huge risk of dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases later in life.
Here are just two specific studies that prompted the country’s top football organisations to make concussion protocol changes:
- Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) research study on the brains of 14 deceased former football players. Six of the 14 showed indications of CTE that caused motor impairments and symptoms of dementia.
- The Health and Ageing Data in the Game of Football (HEADING) study considered the impact of repeated ball heading on players who are now at least 50 years old. The retired players receive regular assessments of their cognitive abilities along with neurological examinations.
What Changes Have Football Leagues Implemented?
During the 2020 season, the Football Association changed its rules regarding heading the ball during training. The change is at the foundational phase level, and coaches will gradually introduce the practice in the under-16 and under-12 leagues.
The Football Association also introduced changes at the start of the 2021 season that impacted all levels of professional and amateur play throughout the United Kingdom. According to new guidance from the Football Association, coaches should create a profile of each player with the following information:
- Number of headings the coach expects that player to complete during a match
The Football Association now recommends that each player perform no more than 10 higher force headings during practice each week. Coaches should plan accordingly based on each player’s profile.
All clubs that operate under the charter of the Football Association have adopted its concussion protocol stance of “if in doubt, sit them out.” The association introduced this protocol in 2016 after the Consensus Statement on Concussion in Sport came out.
This past January, the Football Association applied to the International Football Association Board to implement a permanent procedure regarding replacement of players who sustained a concussion during a game. The concussion replacement rules applied to the Barclay’s FA Women’s Super League, Emirates FA Cup, FA Women’s Championship, and the Premier League.
After the International Football Association Board approved the concussion substitute program, a large sports organisation known as FIFA announced that it would implement trials in as many competitions as possible. Just two months after the January 2021 announcement, Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal, and the United States had joined the United Kingdom with implementing concussion substitute protocols.
Another recent change endorsed by FIFA is that players who have suffered a concussion in football should sit out for at least six days before returning to the playing field. Concussed players also go through a full assessment before obtaining permission to return to play. This is true even when they insist they have no symptoms and can return to the game.