Is playing youth football hazardous in terms of long-term brain damage? Research continues to look at the long-term effects of concussions in football, but repetitive blows to the head could be just as harmful. And young players withstand far more blows to the head in football than most people realize.
Head impacts in youth football
Researchers at the University of Michigan used sensors in helmets to record impacts above a certain threshold. They found that the average high school football player suffers an average of 774 head impacts over the course of the season, or about 50 significant hits per week. Linemen took the most hits, followed by tight ends, running backs and linebackers.
One idea that many people have proposed to protect the brains of young athletes is to eliminate some or all contact from football practices.
Would noncontact practices make youth football safer?
Researchers who have studied football practices and the repetitive subconcussive blows have estimated the effect of making practices non contact ones. By limiting contact to just one football practice per week, teams could decrease the number of head impacts by 17.8%. Completely eliminating contact in practices would reduce head impacts among all players by 38.9%.
Given that many concussion experts believe that the brains of young children could be more susceptible to brain injuries, expect to hear more calls to eliminate contact from practices. There are some questions, though, that we will need to answer if we make this change.
First, would tackling technique suffer? If players do not practice tackling during practice, would they use poor form in games and potentially suffer worse head or cervical spine injuries? Also, would practice changes have any effect on concussion rates during games?
College football teams are at least looking into making one practice each week non contact sessions. It is at least an idea that high school and youth football teams can consider in the coming years.