Youth Football Concussions During Practice

Results of study surprise many

In a prior blog on concussion rule changes, we stated that the new Pop Warner Football concussion rule to limit contact in practice would have a limited effect as only 28 percent of all youth football concussions occur in practice according to American Youth Football (AYF) injury statistics.

Now, a new study by the University Of Pittsburgh and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and funded by the NFL has drawn a similar but more compelling conclusion. The study found that youth tackle football players aged 8 to 12 were at a low risk of suffering a concussion in practice.  (.024 incidences per 1000 exposures), but that the risk was 26 times higher in games (6.16 incidences per 1000 exposures).

“This finding suggests that reducing contact-practice exposures in youth football, which some leagues have done recently, will likely have little effect on reducing concussion risk, as few concussions actually occur in practice. Instead of reducing contact-practice time, youth football leagues should focus on awareness and education about concussions,” said Anthony Kontos, an associate professor at UPMC.

Many experts agree that practice time should focus on proper tackling techniques and instruction instead of head contact.

Leaning on science, not the media

These recommendations are exactly what AYF has been preaching. We recommend against knee jerk reactions to the media frenzy on the concussion issue.  Making hasty safety rule decisions that are not backed by science isn’t a wise move. Instead, wait on the results from the ongoing scientific studies.  In the meantime, focus on educating coaches on recognizing the signs and symptoms of concussions, concussed player removal and medical treatment, and return-to-play protocol. In addition, concentrate on proper tackling technique.

AYF has included concussion awareness training in its coach certification program.

More interesting statistics from the study

The incident rate of concussions in practice and games combined is three times higher in the 11 to 12-year-old age category as compared to 8 to 10-year-old age category.  Just as the AYF injury studies have revealed, there is a direct correlation between age and injuries in youth tackle football. The older athletes are stronger, faster, and more coordinated, hitting with harder force. See our prior blog on the issue of age only vs age/weight categories.

Player in the “skill positions of  quarterback, running back, and linebacker make up 95 percent of youth football concussions.

Source: Study: Kids Get Fewer Concussions In Practices Than In Games; Football Coach Daily; June 6, 2013