08/19/2013 10:39 am ET Updated Oct 19, 2013

Changes To Youth Football Practice Could Make Games Safer, Limit Hits To The Head


By Ingrid Wickelgren
(Click here for the original article and podcast)

Brain injury is a growing concern in football. But changes during practice could make the game safer for kids by cutting total blows to the head in half. So finds the largest study ever to measure head impacts in youth football. The work is in the Annals of Biomedical Engineering. [Bryan R. Cobb et al, Head Impact Exposure in Youth Football: Elementary School Ages 9-12 Years and the Effect of Practice Structure]

Researchers put accelerometers in the helmets of 50 9- to 12-year-olds on three teams to detect forces on the head. For kids on two teams, practice was far riskier than games: they got more than twice as many whacks to the skull at practice than in games. The more hits, the greater the chance of brain injury.

But the third team got knocked in the noggin only half as often as the others--and the difference was entirely from workouts. That team not only practiced less but their sessions were safer: players followed new Pop Warner rules that restrict the number of contact drills and outlaw the roughest ones.

During actual games, however, contact was the same for all players--which shows that protecting kids in practice doesn't change the product on the field. It can stay as brutal as we like.