March is Brain Injury Awareness Month. Brain injuries can be hard to diagnose, treat, and recover from, often leading the affected person to feel isolated and depressed. This year’s theme, the Change Your Mind campaign, provides a platform for educating the general public about the incidence of brain injury and the needs of people with brain injuries and their families. The campaign also lends itself to outreach within the brain injury community to de-stigmatize the injury, empower those who have survived, and promote the many types of support that are available.
As part of Athlete Intelligence's commitment to traumatic brain injury awareness, we are suggesting five ways to decrease the risk of concussions in youth football.
Across the country, growing attention on concussions has led to numerous efforts aimed at protecting athletes. Research continues to highlight one of the main and growing areas of concern: athletes who don’t report concussion symptoms. A survey of almost 170 high school athletes in six sports found that young athletes who were more knowledgeable about concussions were more likely to report. Adequate knowledge can help athletes better recognize the signs or symptoms of a concussion and understand the consequences of not reporting head injuries.
Every team should have a comprehensive return to play protocol that ensures player safety.
2. proper tackling techniques
League officials should ensure that all coaches are committed to teaching proper tackling techniques, and coaches across the country are adopting tackling methods that are meant to keep players' heads away from the impact. There are currently two popular techniques teaching football players to keep their heads out of the game:
Three years ago, USA Football, an organization started by the NFL, offered training to youth coaches on a system of tackling meant to make the sport safer. Dubbed "Heads-Up Football," it includes a series of drills that encourage players to make contact by rising into the ball carrier with their chests and shoulders, keeping their heads back.
It is now used by more than 7,000 youth and high school programs, and in many cases required by school districts. The organization offers coaches, athletes and parents resources to help develop guidelines behind operating a successful and safe football program.
Rugby Style Tackling
Rugby style tackling, also dubbed the “Hawks Tackle,” has gained popularity in the last couple years. It calls for the tackler to keep his head to the side while driving his shoulder into the thigh or chest of the opponent. The technique emulates tackles made by rugby players, and ex- Seahawks assistant head coach Rocky Seto says it is safer and more effective than traditional methods while still packing a wallop.
3. proper fitting helmet
Team equipment managers should make sure when selecting a football helmet that players are inspecting and evaluating the helmet for proper fit. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends that the helmet should fit comfortably around the head without slanting back over the top of the head or drawn too low over the forehead, and that the chin straps securely holds the helmet in place when a player runs or during impact.
Football players wearing poorly-fitted helmets, especially those with under-inflated air bladder liners are at an increased risk of head injuries. Making sure the football helmet has a proper fit with the air bladder linings inflated are two of the simplest and most effective ways to minimize the risk of concussions and traumatic brain injury.
The CPSC has provided a helpful guideline on proper fit, safer play, case and maintenance, reconditioning, and replacement of helmets in their online PDF 4 Quarters of Football Helmet Safety.
4. new technology
Ultimately, to make the game of football safer for players, coaches and team management should consider implementing new product advancements allowing staff to be more informed when large hits occur and when specific athletes are putting themselves at more risk. Sensors are beginning to make a rapid entrance into sports with technologies being able to track hydration, heart rate, muscle contusion, and most importantly, what’s happening to an individual’s head.
In many ways, sensors and new technology allows coaches and athletes to reveal the data you can’t see with your eyes. The more we understand what’s going on in an athlete’s body, the more we can focus on changing behavior and eliminating activity leading to the risk of injury.
5. neck strength
Recently, a growing number of research studies have shown another important way to reduce the risk of sport-related concussions is by strengthening the neck. The theory behind it suggests stronger neck muscles will help cushion against and lessen the linear and rotational forces that can lead to a concussion.
Concussion experts Dr. Meehan and Dr. Cronin, who are featured in the in MomsTEAM's PBS documentary, “The Smartest Team; Making High School Football Safer,” believe that the difference in small neck strength puts players at an increased risk of concussions.
Neck strengthening programs and systems such as CerviFit may be an effective tool in efforts towards reducing the risk of concussions.
reduce the risk of injury with athlete intelligence
At Athlete Intelligence, we provide coaches, parents and athletes access to data surrounding every player and every play. We use sensor technology to collect head impact data then translate that information with our Athlete Intelligence platform to provide actionable insights that lead to safer techniques and smarter monitoring.
- Use the information to reveal improper player technique that could be increasing a player’s injury risk
- Develop a baseline for your team and identify those performing outside the norm
- Get notified in real-time when a hit has exceeded a customized threshold and review the athlete for possible concussion symptoms.