Where are we headed? evidence to inform future football heading guidelines

Kerry Peek*, Rob Duffield, Ross Cairns, Mark Jones, Tim Meyer, Alan McCall, Vincent Oxenham

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
24 Downloads (Pure)


Given the scientific and public concern regarding the short-, medium- and long-term consequences of heading on brain health, being proactive about developing and implementing guidelines that help reduce the burden (volume, impact magnitude and injury risk) of heading in young and beginner players appears justified. This narrative review explores the evidence underpinning strategies that could be incorporated into future heading guidelines to reduce heading burden in players across all levels of football. A four-step search strategy was utilised to identify all data-based papers related to heading in football. Eligibility criteria for inclusion were: (1) original data, (2) study population included football players, (3) outcome measures included one or more of the following: number of headers, measurement of head acceleration during heading, or head/brain injury incidence, and (4) published in English or English translation available. In total, 58 papers were included that outlined strategies based on (1) game or team development, (2) player skill development and (3) equipment. In particular, greater emphasis existed for small-sided games (particularly in young players) where fewer headers are observed when compared with the conventional 11 versus 11 game, as well as reducing headers from goal kicks and corners. Evidence also existed for developing a heading coaching framework that focusses on technical proficiency as well as neuromuscular neck exercises integrated into general injury reduction exercise programs, enforcement of rules related to deliberate head contact and using lower-pressure match and training balls. To mitigate potential risks of heading on brain health, a number of pragmatic strategies have been examined in scientific studies and may be considered as part of future heading guidelines.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1335–1358
Number of pages24
JournalSports Medicine
Issue number7
Early online date7 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2023

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2023. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


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