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Parliamentary inquiry launched into link between sport and head injuries

Newcastle United’s Jamal Lewis receives treatment for a head injury during the Premier League match at St James’ Park, Newcastle.

Sports coaches in the North East are discussing concerns surrounding head injuries following the launch of a Parliamentary inquiry.

It comes after many high-profile sports stars revealed they have experienced head injuries, leading to conditions such as dementia after their playing career has finished.

However, changes have already been implemented at a grassroots level for amateur sports.

Football has made headlines in the past couple of months, with many former players revealing their dementia diagnosis, including former Sunderland centre-half Dave Watson.

His story made headlines in November 2020 after his wife, Penny, described him as ‘the forgotten England captain’ in an interview with the Daily Mail, prompting hundreds of Sunderland fans to write letters of support to the former Black Cat.

Head of Football at Washington AFC, Gary Sykes, said he has seen a series of changes being made to the game in his 24 years as a coach for both adult and youth players, and heading of the ball has certainly been reduced over time.

“I remember when I first started, the FA syllabus had dribbling, passing, running with the ball and heading. But now the focus is about developing the player and being more game-orientated.”

The FA published a series of new rules in February 2020 outlining that children under the age of 11 should not be heading the ball in training sessions.

Children under the age of 18 are able to practise heading the ball, but only for one session per week, with a maximum of 10 headers per session.

“I completely agree with these rules in some respects,” said Sykes. “For one, we don’t want to be teaching our players how to head the ball because 95% of the time the ball is on the ground.

“We want to develop players who are technically comfortable on the ball so, from our viewpoint, heading wasn’t a focus in sessions.”

American football is another sport that has come under the spotlight in recent years for its attitude towards head injuries.

Newcastle Raiders cornerback Nathan Chatterton-Sherburn says that despite being aware of the risks around this, during a competitive game head injuries are at the back of his mind.

“We’re told to be aware of it, but a lot of the time you don’t really think about it when you’re playing,” he said.

“We’re obviously taught to tackle in a way that shouldn’t result in a head injury, in theory, but when I’m actually playing, it’s not my biggest concern.”