With the end of football season, it is a great time to reflect on ways keep our youngest
athletes prepared and protected for the coming year. Having knowledge about how to prevent head injuries is a key part of ensuring a safe game for children. Here are 5 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. 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 concussion management plan that details when a player should be removed from practice or competition. They should also give team physicians guidelines for evaluation before returning to play, and specify when an athlete who has shown signs of a concussion should not be allowed to return to play without a physician’s permission.
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:
Heads-Up Football: Three years ago, USA Football, an organization started by the NFL, started offering 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.
Rugby Style Tackling: Also dubbed the “Hawks Tackle,” this technique 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 style 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.
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 about 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 that another important way to reduce the risk of sport-related concussions is to strengthen 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.
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