High Schools across the country are taking measures to limit exposure to tackling during the off season, including limiting the number of full contact days and mandating breaks in between “full contact” and “no contact” practices.
Changes in rules and regulations come after organizations like the Institute of Medicine started reporting that enforcing stricter standards for safe play could actually reduce the occurrence of sports-related injuries.
In May 2014, the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) Board of Directors passed new rules governing preseason practice, with safety of the high school players in mind.
The National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) has also chimed in on the growing conversation about football safety, saying that concussion prevention can only be effective when action is taken both on and off the field.
David Halstead, technical director at a helmet testing lab, said it starts with a properly fitting helmet, making sure athletes are taught at a young age the proper technique for tackling and play, and requiring athletes to sit out before returning to play after a risk.
The only sure-fire way to avoid a football-related concussion, said Halstead, is to avoid the game all together. But for teens and children with a vested interest and love of the game, staying off the field altogether isn’t an option.
Head coach of Concord High School’s football team, Tim Dawson, said that during his 26 years of coaching he has seen changes in the way football is played and regulated.
“It can be a pretty vicious game sometimes, but even with the equipment they’re wearing, there’s always going to be a risk for injury,” said Dawson.
Inside the Concord Minutemen’s locker room, fresh jerseys hang alongside reconditioned shoulder pads and helmets. Each year the school sends out its helmets and other equipment to be refurbished by helmet manufacturer Riddell.
Dawson said that as long as the equipment is recertified for safety and it fits well, he’s confident putting his players on the field.
But beyond certification, Dawson said proper fitting padding and helmets is paramount to reducing injury.
Each coach at Concord is equipped with air pumps to fill loose-fitting helmets during practice. Dawson said it’s his job and responsibility to make sure no player even practices with an improperly fitted helmet.
Second to making football as safe as possible is teaching proper and safe techniques.
Clay High School head coach Joe Szajko said many first-time players tend to drop their heads when they wrap their arms for a tackle. That’s proven to be a dangerous, head-first way of tackling.
Instead, players are coached to have their faces and face masks up in order to reduce the amount of helmet-to-helmet hits.
IHSAA Concussion Guidelines:
The National Federation sports rule book reads: “Any athlete suspected of having a concussion should be evaluated by an appropriate health care professional that day. Any athlete with a concussion should be medically cleared by an appropriate healthcare professional prior to resuming participation in any practice or competition.”
The State of Indiana mandated a protocol for when an athlete sustains a head injury or concussion during a football practice or game.