Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Tech Study: Practice Hits Most Dangerous for Young Gridders

Just clobber him, kid!*
Virginia Tech researchers, taking note of the fact that three of four football players in the U.S. are children, have begun to study concussions among. Previous studies have almost all centered on professional and college players, who comprise a small percentage of the overall players--and injuries.

In a published study (Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics), research indicates that "limiting tackling drills in youth football practices could significantly reduce players’ exposure to serious head impacts," according to a press release.

Tech professor Stefan Duma, a recognized expert on injury biomechanics and the study's leader, says, “There are more than 3 million youth football players in the U.S., but there’s almost no research on this population. 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

“If you know what scenarios carry the highest risk, you can start to design interventions based on that data,” said Steve Rowson, an associate professor of biomedical engineering and mechanics and an author of the paper.

Duma and Rowson followed 34 9- to 11-year-old players on two Blacksburg youth football teams. The players wore helmets lined with spring-mounted "accelerometers," allowing researchers to measure head acceleration. Over 10 games and 55 practices, these helmets recorded thousands of head impacts, and video footage showed the activity that led to each one.

The data showed that some practice drills carried much higher risks of head impacts than others.
Of the strongest 10 percent of impacts the players received, the majority occurred during tackling drills.

The drill with the highest rate of head impacts was a tackling drill in which a ball carrier rushes at defenders on the perimeter of a circle. Offensive and defensive drills had the lowest rates of head impacts — and resemble actual game play. Over the course of the season, the youth players experienced more threatening impacts in practices than they did in games. College and professional players receive more serious hits during games.

Changing the structure of youth football practices could substantially reduce young players’ exposure to dangerous head impacts, the study found. Duma and Rowson are continuing their research in Blacksburg, and collaborators at Wake Forest University and Brown University are collecting data on additional youth teams.

(*I shot this picture more than 30 years ago at a youth football game in Vinton. It said a lot about how kids were--are still--treated by coaches.)

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