Posts Tagged ‘Heads Up Tackle Training’

AYF Study: 2005-15 Concussion Trends in Youth Tackle Football

Provides perspective for impact of education, getting head out of tackle, and practice restrictions

The latest American Youth Football (AYF) study on concussion trends reveals that education of administrators, coaches, parents, and players is having a positive impact on the identification of and more aggressive response to concussions. On the other hand, popular initiatives to remove the head from the tackle and practice contact restrictions may have a more limited role than portrayed by various groups due to the high percentage of concussions that would not be impacted by these measures. Nevertheless, these initiatives are important components of a broad based brain injury/concussion risk management program.

Updated statistics based on Accident insurance claims for 2005-15 seasons

AYF is the largest youth football organization in the U.S. and represents a wide cross section of players aged five to 15.  The data in this study is based on Accident insurance claims filed with the endorsed AYF insurance program through Sadler Sports & Recreation Insurance. An injury questionnaire consisting of some 20 questions is completed by the authorized team official as a part of the claims filing process and the answers are input into a database. A variety of reports can be produced to drill down to answer specific questions about concussions. The study includes 3,855 injuries reported from 2005 through 2015 of which 434 are concussions. This study is a representative sample of concussion trends occurring not only in AYF, but in youth tackle football as a whole.

Concussions as a percentage of total injuries

What this tells us about the positive impact of concussion education

2015 14.48%
2014 16.18%
2013 16.41%
2012 15.99%
2011 11.55%
2010 7.73%
2009 8.20%
2008 6.36%
2007 5.88%
2006 3.80%
2005 6.72%
Total All Years 11.26%

Notice the spike in concussions reported in 2011 and continuing through 2015. This coincides with the media reports of the NFL class action lawsuit, other concussion related lawsuits, autopsies indicating CTE in deceased pro football players, and anecdotal stories of disabled pro athletes. This also coincides with the beginning of widespread and heavily publicized educational efforts on behalf of the Center for Disease Control and various football-sanctioning and governing bodies on concussion recognition, removal-from-play, medical response, and return-to-play protocols.

It appears that the media attention and educational efforts to train administrators, coaches, parents, and players are having a positive impact in that concussions are taken more seriously and reported more frequently than in past years. Suspected concussions are resulting in increased rates of emergency room and doctor office visits, and diagnosed concussions are resulting in more follow up care as pertains to return-to-play protocols. Overall, Accident insurance carriers are experiencing increased claims payouts for concussion care.

Concussion by situation (physical cause at point of contact)

What this tells us about initiatives to remove the head from the tackle and to limit contact at practice

Tackled by player 23%
Contact with ground 23%
Collision with opponent 18%
Tackling player 7%
Blocked by player 7%
Collision with teammate 6%
Blocking player 5%
Other 3%
Total 100%

The initiative to take the head out of contact as detailed by the Seahawks Tackling video or Heads Up Football (HUF) is very important, but not the magic silver bullet to solve the concussion problem in youth tackle football.

For argument’s sake, assuming that the initiative to remove the head from the tackle is 100% effective in reducing concussions (Datalys study by Kerr on HUF refutes this – see paragraph below), this would result in a reduction of concussions by 30% (sum of tackled by player 23% plus tackling player 7%). If heads-up blocking is added to this equation, that would result in a total reduction of 42% (add blocked by player 7% plus blocking player 5%). The other 58% of concussion claims that occur due to contact with ground, collision with opponent, collision with teammate, and other would not be touched by this initiative.

The above analysis assumes that HUF is 100% effective in reducing concussion claims arising from tackling and blocking. To the contrary, the Datalys study by Kerr in Table 2 indicates that HUF-only leagues have slightly higher concussion rates that non-HUF leagues. Let’s hope that future concussion studies with more participants reach a different conclusion.

On the other hand, the initiative to limit contact at practice would likely have a larger impact in reducing concussions among more categories of physical causes of loss, including contact with ground, collision with opponent, and collision with teammate.

Concussion by activity being performed


Tackling 33%
Running with ball 30%
Blocking 15%
Running w/out ball 6%
Shedding blocker 5%
Passing 3%
Catching ball 2%
Recovering fumble 1%
Other 5%
Total 100%

Concussion by event type (practice or game)

What this tells us about initiatives to remove the head from the tackle and to limit contact at practice

Practice 32%
Game 65%
Other 3%
Total 100%

Since most concussions occur during games and not practices, the initiative to limit contact at practice would only impact those 32% of concussions that occur during practice. With regard to the initiative to remove the head from the tackle, it’s easier to get the head out of the tackle in controlled practice drills as opposed to live action during games, and as a result, its effectiveness should be expected to be diminished as well.

Concussion by position played


Running back 20%
Linebacker 16%
Defensive line 16%
Quarterback 10%
Offensive line 8%
Secondary 7%
Receiver 4%
Practice drills 4%
Kickoff returner 2%
Kickoff blocker 2%
Kickoff tackler 2%
Punt tackler 1%
Punt return blocker 1%
Other 7%
Total 100%


Concussion by type of play from perspective of injured participant


Offense 42%
Defense 42%
Receiving kickoff 4%
Other practice 3%
Kicking off 2%
Punting 1%
Kicking field goal/extra point 1%
Other 5%
Total 100%

The kickoff accounts for 6% of total concussion injuries: 4% when receiving kickoffs plus 2% when kicking off. That statistic does not seem to be out of proportion with the total percentage of plays in a typical game that are kickoffs. Pop Warner recently banned kickoffs for ages 10 and under starting with the 2016 season due to perceived risks.  Based on our statistics, banning kickoffs would not appear to reduce concussion rates.

Concussion and absence from play


2011-2015 2005-2010
1 to 3 Weeks 44% 46%
3+ Weeks 27% 15%
1 to 7 Days 11% 18%
None 2% 7%
Unknown/Not Answered 16% 15%
Total 100% 100%

The period from 2011 to 2015 shows increased absence from play, i.e. later return-to-play times, presumably due to following suggested return-to-play protocols. The 3+ weeks category shows a significant increase with significant decreases in the “1 to 7 Days” and “None” categories. This is further evidence that increased educational initiatives are having a positive impact on concussion treatment.

Concussion and weight of injured player compared to other players


About-average weight 78%
Below-average weight 10%
Above-average weight 6%
Significantly below-average weight 1%
Significantly above-average weight 1%
Other 4%
Total 100%

It appears that players of below-average weight are only slightly more susceptible to concussions than players in the other weight categories. Players classified as significantly below-average weight have the same percentage of concussions as players of significantly-above average weight.

Conclusions about concussions from the study of Accident insurance claims

The higher rates of concussion reporting and more aggressive medical care and return-to-play protocols seem to validate that concussion education is having a positive impact. Initiatives to get the head out of the tackle and to limit contact at practice, while not game changers in themselves, are important components of a broad based concussion/brain injury risk management program as they have the potential to reduce a significant percentage of concussions and subconcussive impacts. Our statistics indicate that practice restrictions may play a larger role than removing the head from the tackle. Additional studies with more participants are required before firm conclusions can be drawn on these concussion reducing initiatives.

USA|Heads Up Football Imposes Onerous Contractual Requirements on Leagues

Shifts responsibility to leagues to pay for concussion lawsuits arising out of Heads Up course content and instruction

USA Football (USAFB), the governing body of youth football and potential deep pocket target in future lawsuits involving brain injury and concussions, has imposed onerous contractual requirements on member leagues that have adopted USAFB’s Heads Up Football (HUF) tackle training course. The potential effect of these contractual requirements is to shift the responsibility to pay for brain injury lawsuits away from USAFB/HUF and to the leagues in cases where both parties are named as defendants in a lawsuit.

Read fine the print for objectionable insurance and indemnification/hold harmless provisions

Prior to being able to access the 2015 HUF training course, leagues must first sign an 8-page contract with USAFB which includes objectionable sections dealing with both insurance requirements and hold harmless/indemnification transfer of liability. This is a classic example of “risk transfer 101” where the party in power imposes its superior strength and bargaining power on the weaker party. Furthermore, in this case, the party that is being shielded (USAFB|HUF) is providing a high-risk service that could be a lightning rod for potential litigation.

Without getting deep into the technicalities, to follow is a brief summary of the objections:

 The insurance requirements section is worded to require the league to name USAFB|HUF as an additional insured under the league’s General Liability policy and furthermore states that the league’s insurance is to be primary to USAFB|HUF’s policy. The intent appears to be to shift the responsibility to pay for legal defense and settlement from USAFB|HUF’s insurance carrier to the league’s insurance carrier in cases where negligence is alleged against both parties.

 The indemnification/hold harmless provision requires the league to assume the liability of USAFB|HUF in the event that the league breaches or defaults on any one of the 10 member obligations when implementing the HUF program. Leagues that can’t prove that they have implemented all 10 requirements may unknowingly be assuming liability that would normally belong to USAFB|HUF.

Complaints by leagues, insurance carriers, insurance agents

These requirements have resulted in numerous complaints by local leagues, national youth football sanctioning bodies, and insurance agents and carriers that specialize in this niche. At least one prominent insurance carrier that serves the sports niche has refused to comply with the additional insured requirement for many of its clients.

Example of how many brain injury lawsuits may play out

Any concussion/brain injury lawsuit filed by an injured player is likely to name multiple defendants including the league and its directors, officers, and staff as well as the vendor that provided the tackle training instruction, i.e. USA Football|Heads Up Football. Under the legal theory of contributory negligence, for example, the league may be found to be 50% negligent (for negligent supervision and instruction) and USAFB|HUF may be found to be 50% negligent (for negligent course content and instruction).

Normally in such cases the insurance carriers of both parties would pay for the respective parties’ own legal defense and the court apportioned negligence percentage of settlement or adverse jury verdict costs. However, with the addition of the objectionable insurance requirements and indemnification/hold harmless provision, it is feared that the outcome would be altered so that the league would be responsible to pay for all of USAFB|HUF’s legal defense and settlement costs. In other words, the league could be responsible to pay for 100% of all legal defense costs and settlement costs for both parties. At least that is the opinion of several experienced and reputable insurance and risk management experts who have reviewed the terms of the contract.

4 reasons why the objectionable requirements are unfair and detrimental to leagues, insurance carriers, and youth tackle football as a whole

  1.  In cases where both the league and USAFB|HUF are named in a lawsuit, the General Liability insurance carrier of USAFB|HUF should be responsible for paying for its own legal defense and any settlement or adverse jury verdict costs to the extent that a court apportions negligence to USAFB|HUF.  USAFB|HUF should have enough confidence in its own course content and instruction to be willing to assume the risks of its own negligence.
  2. The insurance requirement is backwards in that it should be the league that requests USAFB|HUF to issue a certificate evidencing that it carries $1,000,000 in General Liability and in naming the league as “additional insured.” After all, USAFB|HUF is the vendor that is providing the high-risk service in exchange for a fee. Leagues should require all their vendors to provide such insurance protection including umpire crews, concessions, field maintenance, janitorial, fireworks, etc., instead of the other way around, as is the case here.
  3. Any time a league names another party as an additional insured, the league is sharing its limits with the additional insured. This results in a reduction of limits available to the league and its directors, officers, employees, and volunteers. In a situation where a vendor is providing a high-risk service, additional insured status should only be granted when absolutely necessary to protect an additional insured against the sole negligence of the league.
  4. By deflecting the claims to the local leagues and their carriers, USAFB|HUF could be damaging the leagues’ loss records and jeopardizing their access to affordable insurance or any insurance in the future. In the relatively small niche of youth tackle football insurance, adverse claims history can quickly snowball and impact the few underwriters of this coverage.

Leagues should demand that USAFB | HUF amend the contract

Leagues should demand a more equitable contract with amended insurance requirements and an indemnification/hold harmless provision that restores fairness to the equation. In cases where negligence is alleged against both parties, each party should be responsible for its own negligence. One acceptable solution would be alter the current contract to drop the additional insured requirement and the indemnification/hold harmless obligation on the part of the league should not be triggered by failure to comply with all 10 of the member obligations.

Recent discussions with USAFB over these concerns have resulted in incremental improvements for our American Youth Football clients; however, the provisions are still troublesome in my opinion.

USAFB|HUF should be commended on its development and implementation of the Heads Up tackle training program. However, leagues should think twice about signing the contract as it now exists.

John Sadler