28% of children aged 5-14 play football in the US. On top of that, just over 1 million students play high school football.
That’s a lot inspirational speeches, narrow victories and devastating defeats, and tackles. That’s a lot of tackles, which is what concerns the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The AAP does acknowledge and the data reflect that football players are more likely to experience joint injuries–knees and ankles–than head injuries. However, head and neck injuries tend to be more severe than injuries to the back, knees, hands, or ankles.
So how should teams protect their players from head and neck injuries? According to the AAP, football programs need to institute a zero-tolerance policy for illegal tackling techniques such as headfirst, spear tackling. Furthermore, the AAP suggests that coaches limit the number tackles during practice and provide extensive training on how to absorb tackles properly.
The authors of the statement also noted that removing tackling completely would reduce injuries, but it would dramatically change the way the game is played. Let’s be realistic, though. No one is going to remove tackling from football.
However, coaches and teams could work harder to train players to tackle in a way that protects both parties involved in the tackle.
The American Academy of Pediatrics also suggested that perhaps tackling could be delayed. This seems like a slightly more realistic option.
Dr. Van Thiel, an orthopedic sports medicine surgeon at Rockford Orthopedic, weighed in on this topic as well:
This is a complex issue with many passionate opinions on all sides of the argument. Unfortunately, we do not know the answer to these difficult questions, and are really just starting to understand the concussion problem in depth. Many solutions have been proposed, but are based more on expert thoughts than on fact and research. That being said, the following opinion is more based on experience than defined research. Youth football is ground zero for appropriate tackling technique. If this is not taught properly and enforced, habitats can be created that are difficult to break. Thus, for two reasons I am in strong support of delaying tackling until later in a player’s career.
1) There is currently no mandatory certification for coaching. When coaching is spread out over thousands of youth leagues, the quality and training can be variable. This is very difficult to control. At higher levels there are less participants and fewer coaches. This then becomes easier to control the education of coaches and the proper training of players.
2) At youth levels contact becomes the focal point of the game and helmets are strongest part of the uniform. It is instinct to lead with the strongest part (i.e. the helmet). Without high level coaching and officiating, this can again be difficult to control. Concepts of the game should be introduced early and tackling techniques should be introduced later. Furthermore, what we do know about concussions is that it appears to be less about one “large” injury and more about an accumulation of smaller injuries. If we can limit the accumulation of these smaller injuries in youth sports, it stands to reason that this will improve the mental health of players to come.