Safety & Security

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Efforts to Reduce Concussions in Youth Football Players Pay Off

25 Feb, 2015

By: Tracey Schelmetic

With the awareness of the dangers of concussions in youth sports and the effects these injuries can have later in life, a number of changes have come to kids’ contact sports. Some parents have reacted by pulling their kids out of youth football and shuttling them into safer sports such as tennis. Some programs have reacted by seeking more preventive measures, such as keeping a healthcare worker on site during games and practices, or by modifying tackling techniques.

The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Football Rules Committee recently played its part by expanding the rules and provisions of unnecessary roughness during play to include contact with a defenseless player. The decision was made at the group’s annual meeting, which was held January 23-25 meeting in Indianapolis, and approved by the NFHS’s board of directors immediately after.

The revised rule now reads, “No player or non-player shall make any contact with an opponent, including a defenseless player, which is deemed unnecessary or excessive and which incites roughness.”

The federation also made changes to “the spearing rule” that governs illegal helmet contact. Spearing is now defined as “an act by any player who initiates contact against an opponent at the shoulders or below with the crown (top portion) of his helmet.”

While rule changes are one way of arriving at a safer sport, education of coaches is another. USA Football’s “Heads-Up Football” program is an attempt by the national governing body to make youth football safer with a mix of initiatives that include coaching certification, better fitting of protective gear, recognition of concussion symptoms and recommendations for treatment, and improved techniques for tackling and blocking. The approach seems to be working.

A recent study conducted by the Indianapolis-based Datalys Center for Sports Injury Research and Prevention collected data from 2,108 football players ages 5 to 15 and monitored injuries of 100 teams in 10 youth leagues and four states. The study found that players who competed for coaches with training in USA Football’s Heads-Up Football program are better protected than those who did not.

The study, which was commissioned by USA Football, found that players in Heads-Up leagues were 34 percent less likely to experience a concussion in practice and 29 percent less likely to experience a concussion in a game. It’s hoped that these encouraging early results will lead to a reduction in the number of significant head impacts each season, perhaps by an average of 90 fewer hits each season, according to CBS Health Watch. Players who had certified coaches were 76 percent less likely to get injured overall and 57 percent less likely to sustain injuries that kept them out of action for at least 24 hours.

To participate in the Heads-Up Football program, coaches complete a course tailored for the age group of the children they coach (youth or high school). After they successfully complete the course, they earn a certification and appear on the USA Football National Coaching Registry.

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