Study claiming heading footballs leads to memory loss greeted with caution

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By Tom Rogers

A new study that claims heading footballs can cause short term memory loss has been kicked into the long grass by football coaches.

Significant changes in memory and brain function over a 24 hour period were recorded by researchers at the University of Sterling who observed players heading footballs 20 times in a routine drill.

They found it resulted in memory performance being reduced by between 41 and 67 per cent, though results wear off after 24 hours.

But Stephen Clarke, 34, who has been a PE teacher for almost 10 years, said: “I don’t see it having a massive impact. Heading the ball’s happened to loads of people.

“I’d be interested to find out the outcome if they were to go further with the study.

“For me at the moment, I don’t see it having an impact in what I do as a teacher and coach.

“If a parent came to me regarding this issue, I would explain my personal opinion, and would state that there is ongoing research, but at this stage until I’m told to change, I don’t think I would.”

And former Leeds United and Blackburn footballer, Kevin Hird, 61, said that heading the ball is only a tiny part of the game. He said: “I worked at Blackburn Rovers academy with a lot of players aged between about five and 15.

“I believe that it is called football for a reason – the ball should be on the floor for the most part.

“The kids didn’t do a lot of heading practices anyway, the majority of the training is about fitness and agility, and heading is only minor.”

In a press release on the university’s website, cognitive neuroscientist Dr Magdalena Ietswaart said: “In light of growing concern about the effects of contact sport on brain health, we wanted to see if our brain reacts instantly to heading a football.

“Using a drill most amateur and professional teams would be familiar with, we found there was in fact increased inhibition in the brain immediately after heading and that performance on memory tests was reduced significantly.

“Although the changes were temporary, we believe they are significant to brain health, particularly if they happen over and over again as they do in football heading.

“With large numbers of people around the world participating in this sport, it is important that they are aware of what is happening inside the brain and the lasting effect this may have.”

Yorkshire Voice contacted 23 football clubs across Lancashire and Yorkshire, but none were able to comment – saying they did not have enough knowledge on the subject.

The Football Association has said the findings could lead to a further study.

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