Modifying Practice Drill Routines Could Significantly Improve Safety, Reduce mTBI in Youth Football

Researchers from Virginia Tech have published findings from a new study that suggests that the risk of pediatric concussion from football could be significantly reduced by eliminating certain types of tackling drills that are now in common use. The findings represent some of the first conclusions to be focused on the youth football population, estimated to number some 3 million players. Most head impact research has been directed to college and professional level participants. Lead researcher Stefan Duma, PhD, Harry Wyatt Professor of engineering in the College of Engineering, commented, “We believe that it’s possible to engineer safer sports at every level, but first you need the data. There’s an opportunity here to really make a difference.” Co-author Steve Rowson, PhD, associate professor of biomedical engineering and mechanics, added, “If you know what scenarios carry the highest risk, you can start to design interventions based on that data.” The recommendations are published in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics.

In the study, 9- to 11-year-old players from 2 teams, a total of 34 kids, were equipped with helmets containing spring-mounted accelerometers to record and measure head impacts, and were videotaped to associate these with specific play activities. The researchers found that the majority of the strongest impacts occurred during tackling drills, specifically a drill known as King of the Circle. The study found that offensive and defensive drills had much lower rates of head impact, and were much closer to actual game play than the higher risk tackling drill. Therefore, the authors conclude, eliminating the King of the Circle Drill, and reducing the amount of time spent in tackling drills in general, could make practice safer for youth football participants.

A news story about the study and recommendations may be read here.

The journal abstract may be read here.

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