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Three teams, 50 players ages 9 to 12, four concussions and nearly 12,000 measurable blows to the head.
Friday, August 16, 2013
The National Football League has again amended its rules to penalize teams whose players use their heads as battering rams; the rule change is one of several over the last few years aimed to reduce the frequency and severity of concussions, the understanding of which is based on continuing research into how the brain reacts from repeated blows.
The NFL, colleges and high school leagues continue to amend rules as more data accumulate from helmet sensors on the force of impacts encountered during specific types of contact, and as medical evidence mounts as to the cumulative effect on players’ brains, not just from one tremendous blow but from many, less severe ones.
Yet two-thirds of the football players now suiting up for practice across the country are younger than 14 and are just as, if not more, vulnerable to brain injuries because coaches and parents don’t yet get it: The youngsters are taking collegiate-sized whops to the head, and they’re happening not just on game day but at practice, day in and day out.
A new study that peers into youngsters’ helmets should help them understand. A team of researchers from Virginia Tech and Wake Forest recently published its findings in the Annals of Biomedical Engineering that concluded limiting contact at practice and protecting special team players from being drilled during kickoffs and punts dramatically decreases the number of head blows.
The study delved deeper into preliminary findings the researchers discovered after wiring sensors into the helmets of seven Montgomery County rec league players during the 2011 season. This time, three youth football teams from Blacksburg and Winston-Salem agreed to allow sensors to track all of their 9- to 12-year-old players during practices and games last season.
Four players suffered medically diagnosed concussions. Cumulatively, the youth took nearly 12,000 measurable linear or rotational impacts to the head. But the number of blows was not evenly distributed among the teams. Though none of the teams plays Pop Warner football, one instituted that league’s rule changes for 2012: a limit on contact in practice to no more than one-third of weekly practice time or no more than 40 minutes during a single practice, and no contact during special teams’ plays.
The results are instructive — players on the team following the Pop Warner rules accumulated far fewer impacts and sustained appreciably lower magnitude accelerations — and are worth emulating. An achievable goal if only Tech’s helmet researchers were followed as closely as Hokie football.
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