Finally, there’s some good news to report about reducing concussions in youth football.
New research shows that when coaches participated in a new safety training program, concussions among their team members were less frequent.
The program, “Heads Up Football,” instructs coaches in three main areas: safer tackling techniques, the signs of concussion and helmet-fitting practices.
The study was funded by the National Football League’s youth development arm, USA Football, but administered independently by the Datalys Center for Sports Injury Research and Prevention.
Researchers looked at 10 youth football leagues of varying sizes and demographics in Arizona, Indiana, Massachusetts and South Carolina to determine if there could be a direct link between coaching behaviors and player safety.
Coaches received training that included specific tackling techniques focusing on keeping the head up and engaging the shoulders to limit contact to the head. They incorporated those techniques into their practices.
The results? Among the teams with trained coaches, the rate of concussion was lower when compared to the rate among players on teams with untrained coaches.
Educating coaches is critical
Tamara McLeod, PhD, director of the Athletic Training program of the Arizona School of Health Sciences at A.T. Still University in Mesa, served as the principal investigator for the Arizona teams. McLeod studies sports medicine and specializes in researching concussion occurrence in young athletes.
The study confirms the importance of offering training techniques to anyone who coaches youth football. The days of enlisting volunteer coaches based on how they learned to play football in the past are over.
“Coaches need to learn the new ways of doing things to ensure a safe environment,” says McLeod. Whether it’s football, soccer or any other sport, educating volunteer coaches in safety techniques is critical to keeping young athletes healthy.
While concerns exist regarding the game of football and injury, McLeod says the findings in this particular study showed that most injuries were minor. “I would suggest the benefits of participating and being active outweigh the risk of injury. I’m often asked if I would let my son play football and I respond with a qualified yes—that is, if the league has certain safety plans in place.”
Concussions will never be eliminated, says McLeod, “but if we teach proper technique, we can hopefully decrease the risk, which I think this study supports.”
Know what to ask
Do not hesitate to ask about safety when considering a youth sports league. McLeod suggests that parents ask the following questions:
- Is there an emergency action plan?
- What is the policy about concussions?
- Does the league have access to healthcare providers with knowledge and training in youth sports injuries?
- Who is responsible for injury recognition on the sidelines?
- Is educational training required of coaches?
- Are coaches CPR- and AED-certified?
- Do coaches receive training on how to teach proper techniques?
- Does the league have a policy on limiting contact?
- How open is the league to accepting feedback from parents on how to improve safety?
If a league cannot answer these questions, McLeod tells parents to ask that league to update its safety policies. If it doesn’t? “Look for another league,” she says.
Learn more about concussions
- New research on concussions and sleepiness
- BrainBall educates kids about concussion
- Ensuring a safe return to play after a concussion