Published October 26, 2015
A new study shows young football players are less likely to get hurt or sustain head injuries when playing for coaches who have been trained in teaching proper tackling fundamentals.
Last fall, researchers at the Indianapolis-based Datalys Center for Sports Injury Research and Prevention collected data from 2,108 football players ages 5 to 15. The organization monitored injuries of 100 teams in 10 youth leagues and four states.
The data showed players who competed for coaches with training in USA Football's "Heads-Up Football" program are better protected than those who did not.
USA Football, the sport's national governing body, commissioned the study.
The data show that players in Heads-Up leagues were 34 percent less likely to get a concussion in practice, 29 percent less likely to get a concussion in a game and could greatly reduce the amount of significant head impacts each season, perhaps by an average of 90 fewer hits per season.
Dr. Tom Dompier, the president of Datalys and the study's chief researcher, believes the information is so convincing, he's putting it to use in his own household. The full results are expected to be released later Monday.
"My son is 6 and he played (flag) football last year and probably will this year. If he does play tackle football next year, it will be under two conditions. One is whether we can find equipment that fits and the second condition is that the league will have to go through Heads-Up Football," he told The Associated Press. "After going through these three years of study, I believe that coaching education should be mandatory."
Datalys had previously collected data from about 4,000 youth players in 2012 and 2013. The three-year totals show that 2.8 percent of players ages 5 to 15 were actually diagnosed with concussions and that only one player in the 5 to 7-year-old age group actually sustained a concussion during that span.
But the focus of the newest study was to determine whether coaching education could provide a safer environment on the field.
Roughly two-thirds of the players who were monitored played for coaches who had been certified undergone training with USA Football's program.
Seventy-two of the players, ages 9 to 15, also had their helmets fitted with devices to measure the impact of hits. Following each practice or game, independent trainers tracked the information to determine how many significant blows to the head each player took.
The study found that the 38 players who participated in Heads-Up leagues had an average of 2.5 fewer impacts per practice of at least 10 G-forces. Over a 12-week season containing three practices per week, researchers determined that was about 90 fewer significant hits per season than those in leagues that did not undergo training.
The results also showed those who played for the certified coaches were 76 percent less likely to get injured and 57 percent less likely to sustain injuries that kept them out of action at least 24 hours. Ninety percent of those players also went uninjured, according to the study.
"In my own mind, I think coach education is important, and I think the data collected shows that it's important," Dompier said. "I don't want to promote USA Football over someone else's program. But I think it's important coaches receive some training in proper tackling and equipment fitting."
Dompier noted that other variables could have been a factor in the results. He said the study did not determine which helmets were being used by the leagues and acknowledged that independent doctors confirmed all concussion diagnoses.
Dompier said researchers tried to follow leagues with similar economic statuses and what they found is education makes the game safer.
"If my son in a year or two wants to play tackle football and can find equipment that fits him, I'll let him do it," Dompier said. "Up to age 14, he's more likely to get a concussion on the playground or his bicycle than he is playing football."