More than a Helmet for Head Protection

Youth football head impacts reduced by limited contact during practice

(RxWiki News) It may be impossible to entirely avoid head collisions in football, but it is possible to minimize them, at least for young football players. Minimizing head collisions can save young athletes from concussions and other heavy knocks to the noggin.

New research shows that having limited contact during practice can reduce the number of hard hits to the head.

The authors of this study said that through rule changes, equipment design and coach training, youth football safety could be improved.

"Refocus youth football practice to avoid head hits."

This study led by Bryan R. Cobb, MS, from the School of Biomedical Engineering & Sciences at Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University, tracked the number of head impacts that occurred among 50 youth football players during a single season.

The study included young athletes between 9 and 12 years of age from three football teams. Participating kids were given helmets with an accelerometer attached to monitor the number of times each child took a hit to the head.

Team A consisted of 14 of the youngest football players. Team B had 17 players who averaged about 12 years of age and Team C had 19 players who were between 10 and 11 years of age.

Over the course of the season, 11,978 head impacts were recorded. Each of the players with accelerometers sustained between 26 and 585 head impacts.

The number of impacts that occurred during practice was similar to the number that occurred during games, the researchers found. Further, the severity of the impacts during practices versus during games was also similar.

Team A (the youngest group) aimed to limit contact during practice. The team also held about half as many practices as Teams B and C. As a result, they had 37 to 46 percent fewer impacts per practice compared to the other teams.

“It is striking that you can cut head impacts for a player in half just by modifying practice, and it does not seem to change the game,” said Alexander Powers, MD, assistant professor of neurosurgery at Wake Forest Baptist and co-author of the study, in a press release. “This may be very important in kids where brains are developing.”

At the same time, the number of opportunities that football players took a hit the head did not change from team to team.

“[…] Players experienced similar levels of head impact exposure in practice and game sessions on a per-session basis,” the researchers wrote in their report. “The data presented in this study suggest that head impact exposure at the youth level may effectively be reduced by limiting contact in practices.”

The authors noted that the chances the athletes could experience a head impact were dependent on other factors including age.

In addition, the older youth football players between 9 and 12 years of age had both more frequent and more severe head impacts than the 7- and 8-year old players.

This study, supported by the Childress Institute for Pediatric Trauma at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, was published online July 24 in the Annals of Biomedical Engineering.

Review Date: 
August 8, 2013