Brain injury prevention is focus of new youth football rules

Youth football practice is about to get a lot safer for players. Football practice has been shown to be the source of a majority of hard hits that cause repetitive trauma to player's heads and brains. Nationwide football league Pop Warner has just announced that contact drills will be a less significant element in practices in an effort to reduce hard hits and long-term trauma to player's heads.

The change comes in the wake of more than 2,000 professional football players pursuing litigation against the NFL for concealing information about the risks of brain injuries and for not providing adequate medical care after concussions.

The new rules will become effective starting in August as children get back onto the football field in preparation for the fall season. The Pop Warner football league has more than 285,000 children nationwide, aged five to 15.

Younger players are at particular risk because their brains have not fully developed and repeated blows to the head can have a lifelong impact on their cognition.

"The science shows that this should be done," said the chairman of the Pop Warner medical advisory board. "We think right off the bat that with this change we can eliminate 60-plus percent of the brain impacts or concussions."

Brain injuries sustained during contact sports have been linked to a debilitating condition similar to Alzheimer's disease. The disease impacts mood and impulse control and is associated with severe depression and sometimes suicide.

A pediatric sports medicine specialist told reporters that while the new rules are an improvement, football still needs a greater emphasis on player safety. He suggested that rather than teaching kids to tackle and risk injury; practices should focus on skill development.

Source: New York Times, "Trying to Reduce Head Injuries, Youth Football Limits Practices," Anaha O'Connor, June 13, 2012.

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