Statistics from a 2017 U.S. Today poll states that more than one million boys currently play organized high school football across the country. With so many athletes playing the game of football in today’s generation, there are more and more instances where injuries occur. None of the football injuries are as concerning as concussions.
With new research coming out weekly about concussions, young athletes, parents, and coaches should be weary about each athlete’s brain health. Injuries like MCL and ACL tears can be very difficult to recover from, but most heal after surgery with opportunities to play the sport they love after only a year.
However, concussions are not only a concern in the short-term when playing football, but concussions are also a concern for the long-term health of an individual. It is very important for athletes to be aware of ways to prevent concussions before they happen.
If concussions are prevented in young athletes moving forward, they will continue to play the sport they love and live a life worth living in the unforeseen future.
When it comes to preventing concussions, athletes need to remember tackling techniques that properly avoid head collisions. With these tackling techniques in mind, coaches need to teach their athletes the proper way to tackle, so they won’t lead with their head. To much time has passed where coaches have overlooked these principles, and it is time to change tackling techniques, starting with the younger generation.
Some of these techniques include: (1) never aim to hit another athlete in the helmet, (2) never use the helmet to initiate direct contact, (3) don’t tackle intentionally to injure, and (4) never make contact with an opponent who is not protected properly. In turn, football players should lead with their shoulder when tackling, instead of leading with the head.
This will allow less blows to the head, and less blows to the head might mean less concussions for athletes over time. Also, athletes should be taught to wrap up when tackling instead of leading with the head.
A study in Epidemiology of Concussions Among United States High School Athletes in 20 Sports recorded that almost 50% of concussions in football come during a running play. This statistic shows too many athletes are still leading with their head to tackle, or they are leading with their head to move their opponent causing direct physical damage to the skull. Tackling, in this way, could allow for psychological damage as well.
Some have wondered if the human neck was built for physical contact like football. There is evidence the human neck is not as vulnerable as the head. Athletes who strengthen their neck muscles can help reduce concussions during football. Strong necks actually absorb contact during a blow to the skull.
Still, football players should not rely on the strength of their neck, thinking they will no longer have concussion issues. Further research will need to be done on the subject of concussions, when it relates to the neck and head. Nevertheless, during a football game, coaches should make sure to monitor their athletes when a running play occurs, and take special consideration when it comes to the running back position.
The previous study went on to say 63% of concussions are a direct result of poor tackling, with linebackers and running backs taking the brunt of the concussions.
To help limit concussions, coaches can have a big impact. Coaches should limit contact in practices. This will surely decrease the number of concussions during practices during the season. One idea for coaches to consider when preventing concussions may involve shortening practice times (ex. drills, scrimmages at full-speed).
‘Old School’ coaches have always believed full-contact to be the best for their players, but today’s coaches need to create more non-contact drills for their athletes to use.
Not only will this cut down on concussions, but non-contact drills have been proven to be just as effective and, in some cases, more effective than contact drills because the players will not wear down so easily during the week, like past contact drills would allow for.
Also, coaches should consider having an athletic trainer on-hand for practices and games, just in case a concussion occurs.
Having an athletic trainer at all levels from pee-wee up to high school football might be a stretch financially. If this is not plausible for a football program, each coach should be trained in the concussion protocol instead, so if a concussion does occur, they will know how to handle the situation appropriately and efficiently.
Equipment is a big part of preventing concussions as well. More often than not, athletes do not have a helmet that fits properly. Some studies suggest, like the one from Wisconsin Sports Concussion, only 15 to 20% of helmets actually fit. Athletes need to make sure they have a helmet that not only fits their head properly, making them feel comfortable, but the helmet also needs to be in a decent condition.
Football helmets are engineered for and athlete’s protection, but only if the mechanical padding within the helmet is used correctly. Other equipment, like goalposts, need to be properly padded to protect all athletes on the field. Coaches, athletes, and officials should be aware if anything on the field might be hazard to themselves or others.
Concussions are something all athletes can try to prevent on a daily basis. Today’s athletes need to be taught and follow through on the appropriate ways of tackling. An appropriate tackle should never be led with the head, but rather with the shoulder or by wrapping up the opponent. Coaches need to be on the forefront of teaching and monitoring their athletes to make sure they are safe on the football field.
Also, coaches should limit unnecessary contact during practices, and be alert for hazards that could affect their players each game. If these tips are used correctly, then players, parents, and coaches will know how to limit concussions over the lifetime of each athlete.