Jul 21, 2015
Reducing Youth Football Injury Risk

Educating coaches and restricting exposure to contact were both found to be effective measures in reducing the risk of injury to youth football players. According to an article in ScienceDaily, researchers at the Datalys Center for Sports Injury Research and Prevention in Indianapolis examined injury rates for 2,100 youth football players in four states and found those in leagues that were part of the Heads Up Football initiative were significantly lower than those in leagues that were not. The lowest rates were found in leagues affiliated with Pop Warner Football and were part of the Heads Up Football program.

The study, printed in the July issue of the Orthopedic Journal of Spots Medicine, recorded 370 injuries in 71,262 athlete exposures, which is defined as one player participating in a game or practice. For practices, the injury rate in Pop Warner leagues was 0.97 per 1,000 exposures compared to 2.73 for other Heads-Up leagues and 7.32 for all other leagues. The game injury rate was 3.42 for Pop Warner leagues, 13.76 for Heads-Up leagues and 13.48 in other leagues.

Pop Warner instituted rules in 2012 limiting contact drills to one-third of practice time and full-speed or head-on blocking or tackling drills when players lined up more than three yards apart. In the Heads Up program, coaches are educated in equipment fitting, tackling technique, strategies to reduce player-to-player contact, and sports medicine topics such as concussion, heat illness, and sudden athlete death. All the Pop Warner coaches in the study went through the Heads Up program.

The study concluded:

Our findings suggest that a comprehensive coaching education program combined with practice guidelines limiting player-to-player contact may help lower injury rates. In addition, in lieu of practice guidelines, coaching education alone may also be effective at lowering injury rates. Future research should seek to replicate and improve this study, evaluating this coaching education program compared with others, with and without practice contact restriction guidelines, and in other age ranges and populations (eg, high schools).

The full study, titled, “Comprehensive Coach Education and Practice Contact Restriction Guidelines Result in Lower Injury Rates in Youth American Football”, can be downloaded for free from the Orthopedic Journal of Spots Medicine website. 

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