BERN (Reuters) - Heading drills should be reduced in youth football and neck strengthening exercises introduced to help protect the health of young players, European soccer's governing body UEFA said on Thursday.
UEFA included the recommendations in its heading guidelines for young footballers approved on Thursday, but they were sharply criticised by British-based brain injury charity Headway which said they lacked detail and did not go far enough.
UEFA said the aim of the guidelines, based on studies it commissioned at the University of Saarland in Germany and the Hampden Sports Clinic in Scotland, was to "limit the header burden in youth football to what is deemed necessary for the promotion of the game".
There has been increasing concern over the possible long-term affects of heading and the English, Scottish and Northern Irish FAs have barred heading in training sessions for Under-12s.
A study undertaken last year by Glasgow University and supported by the Scottish FA found that former professionals were at more risk of dementia than the general population.
UEFA recommended that coaches "reduce heading drills as far as possible, taking into consideration the heading exposure at matches".
Balls should be the appropriate size and weight for the respective age groups, and the lowest pressure authorised by the rules, it said, while foam balls might represent an alternative.
UEFA added that recent scientific research has suggested that neck strengthening exercises might help reduce the impact of heading.
The recommendation to reduce heading was described as "entirely sensible" by Luke Griggs, Headway's deputy chief executive.
"However, the lack of detail in UEFA’s new guidance document makes it hard to see how it will be of any benefit whatsoever to youth coaches," he said in a statement.
"If football’s governing bodies believe that further evidence is required, they must use their vast resources to commission additional research without yet more unacceptable delay."
(Reporting by Brian Homewood,; Editing by Toby Davis and Ed Osmond)