Recommendations on Tackling in Youth Football
The American Academy of Pediatrics released a study looking at recommendations on tackling in youth football. The authors of the study performed a literature review looking at the mechanisms of head, neck and catastrophic injury in football.
Not surprisingly, the act of performing a tackle, or being tackled, is a leading mechanism of injury in football for head and neck injuries, catastrophic injuries and other serious injuries. One of the leading causes of concussion in youth and high school sports is head-to-head contact. The main recommendation is to continually stress proper tackling technique. Players and coaches need to understand the importance of keeping their heads up and making contact with their shoulder pads, thus reducing the chance of head-to-head contact.
In their summary, the authors explore the idea of limiting contact in practice throughout the season to reduce the overall occurrence of head contact. However, they do point out it is not fully known how much of an impact this will make. They also discuss increasing the age at which players initiate contact and the possibility of non-contact leagues. This would allow those who are interested in playing, but are concerned about head injuries, an outlet to enjoy the game with a decreased injury risk.
As Athletic Trainers, we play a key role in the recommendations made by the authors. The last 2 points they recommend on tackling in youth football are to institute neck strengthening programs and have an Athletic Trainer on hand for contests. We have the ability to educate coaches, athletes and administrations on the risk of head injury in football (and sports in general) and the implementation of programs to reduce the risk, including strengthening and skills based technical training. Having an Athletic Trainer available to athletes allows injuries to be detected and treated earlier.
While the risk of injury will not be eliminated in sports, we can hopefully continue to make progress with our educational material to keep all of our athletes healthy and active.