One of the most popular new additions to concussion guidelines may actually be putting youth athletes at risk if new research is correct. A new study has shown that kids are much more likely to suffer concussions during games than in practices, and furthermore cutting back too much on practice hitting may keep young football players from learning how to keep their heads safe during the game.
The study, led by Anthony Kontos, assistant research director for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center sport concussion program, followed 468 players aged from 8-12 during the 2011 season on 18 teams in the Pittsburgh area. Out of 20 concussions that were documented between twenty different players, 18 of those occurred during games. By the researchers’ calculation based on total exposure to practice and games, players were 26 times more likely to suffer concussions during games.
“The practice rate is extremely low, which is interesting, because several organizations have looked at reducing contact practice time. And when we look at that as a concussion reduction strategy, it may not … have the best outcome, because very few concussions occur there,” Kontos told USA Today.
These findings are especially relevant as the Pac-12 Conference announced early this week that it would adopt a policy limiting contact in football practices. Jon Butler, executive director of Pop Warner, the largest youth football association in the nation, established the same rules last year.
While Butler was not surprised by the results of this study, he was caught off guard by the assertion that not enough contact in practice may be detrimental. Still, he stood by his decision, “Some studies have shown that you still get more concussions at practice because you’re practicing three or four times as much overall time as game time.”
Instead of using full contact tackling drills, Butler says that much of the teaching of proper tackling technique is done at slow speeds without full contact. “It’s mostly done at walk-through or maybe half-speed. And then you use the full speed contact to reinforce it,” he said. “The majority should be at first non-contact technique, and then you learn and progress to the actual real thing. But you don’t want to go from having never done it to going into a game and doing it.”