Many parents worry about their young athletes experiencing concussions every weekend when they face down an opponent on the field, but a new study suggests most high school and college age football players are actually more likely to experience brain injuries during practices than in a game.
Lead author Thomas P. Dompier of the Datalys Center for Sports Injury Research and Prevention in Indianapolis, Indiana, says the higher number of injuries in practices is due simply to the fact there are many more practices than games per season.
The researcher says when you view the data in terms of number of field appearances, the concussion rate is actually higher during games.
For the study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, the researchers used reports from three large injury surveillance systems in the U.S. to study concussions across 118 youth football teams, 96 high school programs, and 24 college institutions during the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
By the end of the study, over 1,000 concussions were reported, largely by high school students. However, the concussion rate was highest in college students, who averaged four concussions per 1,000 participations in a game. In comparison, youth players averaged 2.4 and high school students averaged 2 per 1,000 participations.
In youth players age five to 14, approximately 54 percent of brain injuries occurred during games, compared to around 42 percent of high school and college concussions.
Dompier said education programs are making practices safer as coaches are more informed about proper tackling technique, equipment fitting, and recognizing the signs of injury.
“From my experience working as an athletic trainer, college coaches rarely schedule full-contact drills during practice focusing more on strategy and tactics,” he said. “At the youth and high school levels, coaches still teach tackling, and in my opinion, most still mistakenly believe the only way they can teach tackling is through player-to-player contact.”
The author also suggested implementing policies which limit how much time is devoted to full or player-to-player contact which can raise the risk of injury.
“A few examples include Pop Warner’s recent improvements to their practice policies, USA Football’s Youth Football Practice Guidelines, and the NFHS also recently released practice guidelines for high school football,” Dompier said. “Minimally, organizations should at least follow those guidelines that are appropriate for their level of play.”