Even Practice Poses Danger for Football Players - Pacific Standard

Even Practice Poses Danger for Football Players

A new study shows that more concussions take place in high school and college practices than they do in games.
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Football practice at South Carolina's Lower Richland High School in 1968. (Photo: Hunter Desportes/Flickr)

Football practice at South Carolina's Lower Richland High School in 1968. (Photo: Hunter Desportes/Flickr)

It’s no longer much of a secret that football is a dangerous game. As studies—and lawsuits—pile up, the public is becoming increasingly aware of the risk for concussion that the sport poses, which might explain the recent decline in Pop Warner participation. A new study released today provides yet more evidence for football naysayers: Most concussions actually take place on the practice—and not the playing—field.

Led by Thomas Dompier, of the Datalys Center for Sports Injury Research and Prevention in Indiana, a team of researchers analyzed concussion cases in 96 high school teams and 24 college programs across the United States. The researchers counted nearly 1,200 concussions during the 2012 and 2013 seasons, 66 percent of which befell high school athletes, and 21 percent, college players.

They found that about 57 percent of concussions in that age bracket actually occurred during practice. That’s quite a jump from younger players; fifty-four percent of concussions suffered by kids between the ages of five and 15 came about in games.

One important caveat: Concussion rates are still significantly higher in games. For college athletes, the researchers noted a rate of 3.74 per every 1,000 “athlete exposures” (i.e. getting hit). Practice concussion rates, on the other hand, were a comparatively paltry 0.53 per every 1,000 athlete exposures.

The researchers counted nearly 1,200 concussions during the 2012 and 2013 seasons, 66 percent of which befell high school athletes, and 21 percent high school players.

Why the disparity between the total number of concussions and concussion rates? One likely reason: simple numbers. A college roster can have upwards of 100 players on a college team, all participating in practice; only 11 athletes see the field at a given point in the game. When more players see the field at once—even if they aren’t making full tackles—you’re likely to see more injuries.

Overall, concussions made up 9.6 and eight percent of all injuries reported in the Youth Football Surveillance System and the National Collegiate Athletic Association Injury Surveillance, respectively.

The study furthers the argument that football is an inherently dangerous activity, and raises questions if enough is being done to prevent head injuries. “Concussions during practice might be mitigated and should prompt an evaluation of technique and head impact exposure,” the researchers write. “Although it is more difficult to change the intensity or conditions of a game, many strategies can be used during practice to limit player-to-player contact and other potentially injurious behaviors.”

There’s a small sliver of hope though: A 2014 Datalys Center report found that participating in governing body USA Football’s Heads Up program—which teaches everything from proper tackling to hydration protocol—results in a 76-percent reduction in injuries.

Quick Studies is an award-winning series that sheds light on new research and discoveries that change the way we look at the world.

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