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Limited contact in youth practices might reduce head injuries

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Two universities announced a joint study that limiting contact at football practices could greatly reduce youth head injuries, the Winston-Salem Journal reported.

Researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and Virginia Tech determined that youth players exposed to less contact during practice had a 37 percent to 46 percent lower risk of head injuries.
However, other researchers say limiting practice contact also limits the opportunity to teach and enforce proper tackling techniques.
In 2012, the national Pop Warner organization mandated that no more than one-third of practice time, or about 40 minutes a week, could be devoted to full-speed contact.

The study, which is one of a handful released on youth football practices during the past six months, came to similar conclusions as a recent one by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. The UPMC study also included a warning that reducing practice contact could limit the efforts to teach proper tackling techniques.

Although more than 70 percent of U.S. football players are under age 14, "there is no clear, scientifically based understanding of the effect of repeated blows to the head in young players," said Steven Rowson, assistant professor at the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences and lead author of the study.
The Wake Forest-Virginia Tech study covered 50 youth league players ages 9 to 12 on three teams in two leagues. Sensors were installed in helmets similar to the way Virginia Tech has done it for years and Reagan High School players in Pfafftown did it during the 2012 season.
The researchers were able to determine the average exposure level of a typical 9- to 12-year-old player. They concluded that players on the Pop Warner team had an average of 37 percent to 46 percent fewer head impacts than players on the other two teams.
The researchers found no significant game difference between the teams' players in terms of impact frequency and acceleration magnitudes.

-- Bill Bradley, contributing editor

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