Study: Amount of practice doesn't influence hits in football games

The New York Times reported Friday on a study that said head hits absorbed during youth football games do not increase if the players have fewer full-contact drills during practice.

The research, which was published this week in the Annals of Biomedical Engineering, was conducted by the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest School of Biomedical Engineering.

The study's conclusion -- that the amount of practice does not influence the number of head hits absorbed during games -- may bolster calls to reduce the frequency of contact drills in youth football leagues. N.F.L., college and high school teams have already scaled back the number of contact drills in practices.
"The concern is if we don't teach kids how to hit in practice, they're going to get blown away in the games," said Stefan Duma, who runs the School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences and is one of the co-authors of the study. "This shows you can dramatically cut the amount of exposure in practice and have no more exposure during the games."

The study bolsters previous studies that have encouraged youth football leagues to cut back on full-contact drills. That includes a national decision by Pop Warner Football to limit full-contact days of practices.

To determine the vulnerability of young athletes, the study tracked 50 players on three youth teams in Virginia and North Carolina for a season.
The players had six accelerometers placed in each of their helmets measuring how many times they were hit in the head, where they were struck on their helmets and how much their heads accelerated when hit.
The study showed that 41 percent of all head hits were to the front of the helmet and 25 percent to the back. Four of the 50 players sustained a concussion during the season.
When data from all three teams were consolidated, the difference in the number of hits per session for practices and games was not significant.
However, players on the team that adopted the new Pop Warner rule changes absorbed an average of 37 percent to 46 percent fewer hits than players on the other two teams over the entire season, taking into account practices and games.

The Times report said the study appears to back up some of the safety measures started by USA Football and its Heads Up Football program.

"You're seeing a culture change due to the awareness" of concussions and other head injuries, said Steve Alic, a spokesman for USA Football.
"There is a re-emphasis on fundamentals," Alic said. "It's not easy to change the culture of youth football, so it's going to take time."

-- Bill Bradley, contributing editor

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