Helmetless Training May Protect Football Players From Brain Injury

Source: University of New Hampshire

Source: University of New Hampshire

Concussions in football have been in the headlines quite a bit lately thanks to the “concussion crisis” in football and the new movie starring Will Smith, however the latest news about brain injuries in football may be the most shocking yet. According to a new study published in the Journal of Athletic Training, playing football without a helmet may actually be safer.

The results of the first year of a two-year study conducted by the University of New Hampshire suggests HuTTTM intervention program, a set of helmetless-tackling drills, is effective in reducing head impacts by up to 28 percent in one season. The new training system changes tackling behavior and may reduce the risk of brain injury. To assess the technique, the researchers evaluated a set of 50 football players from the University of New Hampshire football team, a NCAA Division I team.

Half of the players were placed into an intervention group, where they performed five-minute tackling drills without their helmets and shoulder pads twice a week during pre-season, then once a week during the football season. These drills consisted of repeatedly tackling into an upright pad, tackling dummy, or teammate holding a padded shield. The other 25 players were placed in a control group which performed non-contact football skills at the same time, rate, and duration.

Both groups were supervised by UNH football coaching staff and wore head-impact sensors to monitor the frequency, location, and acceleration of all head impacts.

According to the findings from the season, the players in the intervention group experienced 30 percent fewer head impacts per exposure than the control group.

“This behavior modification is not only about alleviating head impacts that can cause injuries now, but reducing the risk of concussive impacts that can lead to long-term complications later in life,” Erik Swartz, who led the study, said in a statement. “These helmetless drills could help to make it safer to play football.”

Swartz and his colleagues said high school and college football players could each sustain more than 1,000 impacts in a season, while youth players may sustain 100 during that same timeframe.

The findings are promising, but more research is needed to see how effective the training technique is in larger groups or in younger players with less experience and physical maturity.

“The idea of taking off the football helmet during practice to reduce head impact may seem counterintuitive to the sport,” Swartz said. “But the findings show that preventing head impacts, which can contribute to spine and head injuries like concussions, may be found in behavior modification like these drills.”

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