Can virtual reality help tackle football’s heading-related dementia crisis?

Can virtual reality help tackle football’s heading-related dementia crisis?

It is a fact, universally acknowledged, that football has been eerily slow in the face of the horrifying fact that headers can kill generations of players.

Some experts are calling for game powers to ban vertical titles due to mounting evidence that they may cause dementia — a move Goal Strongly backed five years ago.

But there is no indication that this will happen soon, so could virtual reality (VR) help in the meantime?

Scientists at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Institute of Sport are experimenting with Player 22, a new VR platform designed to train soccer players to head the ball without exposing them to the potential risks of doing so.

The 22 player, created by Manchester-based development and cognitive analysis company Rezzil, involves users wearing a pair of virtual reality goggles as they perform a set of virtual tasks aimed at improving their soccer skills.

Instead of heading an actual ball, the player heads a virtual ball.

Andy H., co-founder of Rezzil, told Goal“There is a clear benefit to reducing the number of times a player heads the ball in practice.

“This is especially important for young players, as recent rule changes have been recognized in federations around the world.

“Rezzil can help ensure that players can continue to practice and develop the skill of vertical batting in a contactless manner.

“We’re halfway through a body of research that may link the two together, but it’s reasonable to assume we can help here.”



The intervention of VR appears crucial in light of the growing concerns among the medical community that the head may have dire consequences.

A landmark study published in JAMA Neurology last year showed that ex-professionals are more than three and a half times more likely to die of dementia, and more than five times more likely to die of Alzheimer’s disease than the general population.

Dr Willie Stewart of the University of Glasgow, who led research on the impact of football on lifelong health and risk of dementia (FIELD), said: Watchman: “With the current data, we are now on the verge of proposing a football sale with a health warning saying that frequent headers in football may lead to an increased risk of dementia.”

Dr. Stewart’s stark revelation should come as a crushing blow to the growing number of footballers and their families who have suffered from this brutal and unforgiving disease.

It was 20 years in November since former West Bromwich Albion and England striker Jeff Astell became the first British footballer to be judged by an investigation who died of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a type of dementia.

In the case of Astle, who was only 59 years old when he died, low-level brain trauma has been shown to have developed from repeated head hits from soccer balls.

Five of England’s 1966 World Cup winners – Ray Wilson, Martin Peters, Nobi Styles, Sir Bobby Charlton and Sir Jack Charlton – have all suffered from the degenerative disease since Astle’s death in January 2002.

Countless lesser-known footballers have also suffered from the devastating condition, but news of the legendary name struggles appears to have spurred football into action.

Jeff Astell West Broome 1970 GFX


Children under the age of 12 were banned in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland in February 2020 from heading the ball during training, reflecting similar moves in countries such as the United States.

Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer were among the former England players who issued a joint statement last year calling on the football authorities to urgently implement a new strategy to tackle the dementia crisis in the sport, which the “terrifying” group described as a “time bomb”.

The Football Association, the Premier League and the Premier League, endorsed by the Players’ Association, have since announced guidelines limiting “high-impact” heads to 10 heads per week in training.

However, such measures are insufficient, according to Dr. Stewart. He said they were “not based on science” and insisted that any category of addresses created fewer risks.

Enter VR and its safer viewing.

Researchers from Manchester Metropolitan University Institute of Sport tested how effectively Player 22 improved a player’s title style by comparing the skills of those who train with and without a virtual reality system.

Dr Greg Wood, Senior Lecturer in Sports and Exercise Psychology at the Manchester Metropolitan University Institute of Sport, said: Goal: “Research has shown that the heading ability may reduce the risk of subconcussive events in soccer players.

“Therefore, we are investigating whether learning to head the ball in virtual reality improves vertical ability without exposing the player to the repetitive effects of heading the ball.

“We have three groups of university football players participating: a control group that does no head training; a VR group that trains in a virtual reality simulation over three 30-minute sessions over 10 days; and a physical exercise group that trains on the actual head in the real world For 3 sessions of 30 minutes each over 10 days.

“We take pre- and post-measurements of title skill in the ‘real’ world and also measure perceived title ability and confidence.

“We are currently analyzing this data and hope to have some results in the coming months.”



Dr. Wood is excited to participate in what “could be a revolution in athletic training.”

“In my opinion, virtual reality has an important place in elite sport,” he said. “We just need to know where it is best used to have the greatest impact on player performance and well-being,” he said.

After the current experience, he said he plans to start another study consisting of a longer training period, with more participants and “maybe with better players”.

Eshes of Rezzil is confident his technique can be used widely by professional teams and academies to reduce ball contact time for headers practice.

He said, “Unfortunately, the difference [using the technology currently] They do not allow us to use press releases in their names, but we work with six Premier League teams and players individually from across the Premier League. We also work with a few other people around the world, including international associations and league teams.

“There is no reason why Rezzil cannot be used to learn set pieces in conjunction with general timing practice and repetitive playing situations.

“I think it will become a natural part of training at all levels of the game over time. We are already working with elite teams, individual professional players and key players in this region.”

Dawn Astle, daughter of Jeff Astle, supported the innovation of Rezzil.

Astle is leading a dedicated dementia division of the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) as part of the Federation’s Driver to ensure “top priority” support for former players with neurodegenerative diseases.

I told Goal“I think anything we can do to reduce this horrific increased risk of developing neurodegenerative disease in footballers should be welcome.”

The question of whether football needs to move forward and completely break the law is still a matter of intense debate.

However, Dr. Wood does not endorse this happening yet.

He said: “I think the dementia of former professional players is very worrying, but I don’t think there is enough understanding of the contribution that head football has made to this process to ban them completely from the game.

“It could be that advances in ball design, perhaps even the style of play in modern football that produces less header, could reduce the risk of disease in modern footballers, but it’s really hard to pinpoint.

“We definitely need more research into the effects of football on brain development and function.”

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