Head hits rare in youth football practices
U. PITTSBURGH (US) — A recent study found that children who play youth football are 26 times more likely to suffer a concussion in a game than in practice.
“This finding suggests that reducing contact-practice exposures in youth football, which some leagues have done recently, will likely have little effect on reducing concussion risk, as few concussions actually occur in practice,” says Anthony Kontos, associate professor in the department of orthopaedic surgery at the University of Pittsburgh.
“Instead of reducing contact-practice time, youth-football leagues should focus on awareness and education about concussion. We believe that practice is when tackling technique can be taught and reinforced in a much safer environment than in games.”
The study, which included 468 players on 18 youth-football teams from suburban Pittsburgh and central Pennsylvania, showed that practices were relatively concussion-free (0.24 incidences per 1,000 exposures).
These data suggest that contact practices provide an appropriate, controlled environment to teach proper tackling techniques, which may decrease the incidence of concussions. Those techniques, focusing on shoulder instead of helmet contact, are being taught around USA Football and through other youth-football organizations across the United States where some 3 million children play the game.
Other findings of the research, published in the Journal of Pediatrics include:
- The incidence rate of concussions in 8- to 12-year-old players—1.76 per 1,000 game and practice exposures—proved comparable to the incidence rate previously reported for high-school and college players. The 0.24/1,000 rate in practices is slightly lower than found in high school and college.
- Age is a factor. The 8- to 10-year-olds were almost three times less likely to suffer a concussion than 11- to 12-year-olds, 0.93/1,000 exposures in games and practices among the younger group to 2.53/1,000 in the older. Pre-teens sustained three times as many concussions despite participating in 10 percent more total games and practices. Maturation translates into bigger, stronger, faster athletes who engage in more contact than younger players.
- Quarterback, running back and linebacker—the “skill” positions in youth football—absorbed almost all of the total concussions, 19 of 20 (95 percent). Rotating players to different positions may help to mitigate concussion risks.
“This is the first study to examine concussion rates at such youth levels, and it echoes the message emphasized by USA Football and several national youth-football organizations,” says Michael “Micky” Collins, executive and clinical director of the UPMC concussion program.
“So many people have added their voices to this issue, and for the first time, this study shows there’s no scientific evidence concerning concussions to support limiting practice time for young football players. In fact, we encourage practice as a safety and concussion-education precaution.”
The researchers note that their study, covering the youth-football season from August to December 2011, is a good first step, but more research is needed.
Little is known about the potential for long-term effects from repetitive exposures to sub-concussive impacts that might occur in practices and games. Therefore, more scrutiny is warranted overall, to include more seasons, a wider sample size and older, middle-school players aged 13 to 14.
The study was funded by NFL Charities.
Source: University of Pittsburgh
You are free to share this article under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported license.