Limits On Full-Contact Practices In High School Football Significantly Reduce Impact Exposure
A 2016 study finds that a rule change limiting full-contact high school football practices was effective in reducing head-impact exposure for all players, with the largest reduction occurring among lineman. (1)
The study, by researchers at the University of Michigan, found impacts reduced from an average of 592 impacts per player in the 2013 season, when there were no rules regulating the number or duration of regular season contact practice sessions in high school football in the state and such practices occurred approximately 3 days per week, to an average of 345 impacts per player per season in the 2014 season, after the high school athletic association limited teams to conducting no more than 2 collision practice days in any week after the first regular season game. (“Collision practices” were defined as “live, game-speed, player versus player contact in pads involving any number of players.”)
Researchers attributed most of 42% decline in impact exposure to a 53% reduction during practice sessions season over season, although game impacts were also reduced by 25%, possibly as an indirect result of the policy change.
The decline in practice impacts varied by position, was significant for linemen (37% decline), receivers, corners, and safeties (23% decline), and tight ends, running backs (including fullbacks), and linebackers (25%) decline. Quarterbacks also experienced a reduction (48% decline), but, due to the smaller number of impacts, was the change was not considered significant. As the coaching staff and offensive scheme remained consistent over the two seasons, lead author Steven Broglio of the Neurotrauma Research Laboratory said it likely associated with the rule change.
The data also showed that impact rates to the front of the head, back of the head, and side (right or left) were also significantly reduced from 2013 to 2014. Most notable was the decline in impacts to the front of the helmet among lineman, who experienced a 38.8% reduction in the concentration of front helmet impacts. Because the coaching staff and offensive scheme remained consistent, the study said the reduction in impacts was likely associated with the rule modification.
Although Broglio and his colleagues viewed the results as “promising”, they were careful to note that the restrictions on full-contact practices in football – now in place in one form or another in 46 of 50 states – were being implemented despite a “lack of clarity surrounding the relationship between repeated head impacts in high school athletes and long-term neurocognitive dysfunction,” and whether the rules influence concussion risk and long-term cognitive function required further study.
- Broglio SP, Williams RM, O’Connor KL, Goldstick J. Football Players’ Head Impact Exposure After Limiting of Full-Contact Practices. J Ath Tr. 2016;51(7):000 (e-published ahead of print July 2016).