Bournemouth University: Student’s study into heading in football published in leading journal

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Final year BSc (Hons) Sports Coaching student Joe Evans has recently been published in the British Journal for Sports Medicine. His study explored the effects of headers in English professional football and the concerns that they may be related to long-term neurodegenerative diseases.

Joe has been working at West Ham FC on placement for the past year and part of his role has been leading on research and data collection into the impact of heading.

“The aim of my editorial was to discuss heading load at a Premier League football club across a season. We are encouraging further discussion and research related to heading exposure in professional football with the aim to improve understanding in this area,” Joe explained.

Joe led an audit of heading load at the Premier League club so they could share their experiences and consider ways to improve practice. In his study he recorded heading data in first-team training during the 2021-2022 season. His aim was to find out if Premier League footballers exceed the recommended heading guidelines of a maximum of 10 high-force headers each training week. He also investigated whether specific training drills expose players to a greater load of heading compared to others.

“This is a really important study as part of wider work across the whole game related to brain health. This includes grassroots and professional football, covers youth and adults, in both the male and female game,” said Joe.

When asked how it felt to have his work peer-reviewed by experts and published at such an early stage in his studies, Joe replied, “First and foremost, I am very privileged and grateful to the club for giving me the opportunity to carry out this work, especially my co-authors who have been consistently patient with me throughout the whole process and without their guidance and knowledge this would not be possible.

“It definitely feels a little bit surreal being an undergraduate student and a first author on a publication in a world-renowned sports journal. So yes, it hasn’t really sunk in yet but once again feel really blessed and grateful.”

His Placement Development Advisor, Miriam Bray, comments “This is a phenomenal achievement for a placement student, and I am so incredibly proud of him. He has been an absolutely superstar throughout placement in all respects. I have received outstanding feedback from his managers, and I believe he has really developed his confidence.”

Joe is now heading into his final year and plans to continue this topic in his final year dissertation.

Reflecting on how the course had prepared him for placement, he comments, “My course has allowed me to go into the football industry with an array of different skills which I feel I was able to apply. But for me the most important thing to take from my course into my placement year, was the relationship built with some of my lecturers, who might not have a direct link to my publication but helped me lay the foundation to achieve and be effective in any work I do. They really helped me in carry a strong and resilient mentality throughout the year. The aim is just to continue the hard work and hopefully I will be able to make an impact in the future.”

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