Did you know, concussions contribute to 30% of deaths in the US per year? According to Dr. Broglio, although everyone is a potential victim of concussions, children, especially young athletes, tend to be more susceptible to the injury! It may be impossible to eliminate concussions completely, but there are definitely ways to prevent at least half of the collisions in youth sports. One sport that is known for its constant tackling is football. According to momsteam,youth football players were 26 times more likely to get concussed in a game than in practice. Likewise, high school football players were 7 times more likely to receive concussions.
A concussion is defined as “temporary unconsciousness caused by a blow to the head. The term is also used loosely for the aftereffects such as confusion or temporary incapacity.”According to the Mayo Clinic, concussions are traumatic impacts to the brain that alter the way the brain functions. While soccer, basketball, and wrestling are contact sports known to cause concussions, one of the highest recorded sports with concussed athletes is football, specifically when played by young athletes. According to ESPN staff writer Tom Farrey, NFL players who began playing tackle football before the age of twelve performed worse on the estimated verbal IQ; executive function, which includes reasoning and planning; and memory impairment in comparison to players who started playing later! Thus, this data shows how important it is for youth football players to not only be cautious when playing football, but also be supplied with safe gear because this will undoubtedly impact their futures.
Learn more about concussions in youth football here!
For this project, my partner Juliana and I brainstormed a variety of ideas to decrease concussions in youth football.
- We thought about addressing the problem at its source by creating a new helmet with more padding to decrease the impact of a collision, but recreating a helmet in the given time, we recognized, was nearly impossible.
- We then thought about having football athletes wear concussion headgear under their helmets; instead of acting as a form of healing and prevention for a second concussion, the headgear would act as a form of prevention to avoid the concussion in the first place. Though this idea could potentially work, we found difficulty testing this idea.
- Another idea we had was having more hands-on exams after a concussion to make sure someone is ready to go back because most high school athletes and coaches encourage athletes to return as soon as possible. It is extremely important to ensure that an athlete is ready to return to play because people become more susceptible to concussions after the first blow, but we recognized that it was also difficult to test this idea as we could not find a subject and knew that students could potentially be dishonest during this process.
- Juliana and I also thought of having coaches implement safe, less contact drills during practice because with practices being everyday, young athletes are at high risk of concussions with the constant contact during practice. Again, Juliana and I strayed from this idea because coaches and players could always be dishonest as sometimes a coach may be more fixed on winning than an athlete’s well being.
- Finally, after talking to Mrs. Kahn, we decided on the idea to implement rules for the helmet to ensure that it is in the best condition possible. After much research on the rules of football, I found that there were few rules regarding the status and quality of helmets during games and practices. Recently, the nfhs came out with a new rule stating that players who take their helmets off while the ball is live are subject to sit out one play. While this rule partially addresses a possible risk, more rules should be put in play regarding helmets in high school football.
In hopes of decreasing the amount of concussions in youth football, Juliana and I wrote a letter entailing new rules regarding the inspection of helmets to ensure schools are being proactive and aware about the condition of their gear (below).
- The first rule was created because most schools inspect their helmets yearly. By the end of one season, athletes who constantly take big hits are at high risk of getting a concussion.
- We chose to include the second rule because many schools choose to keep their helmets for at least 4 years because it is cost effective, but with more than 15 games and over 90 practices a year, the helmets should undoubtedly be replaced often.
- In addition to the coaches being educated about concussion prevention, athletes should be aware too because they are the ones using the helmets, thus the ones that are most aware of the wear and tear of them.
- Although the fourth rule is not about the condition of helmets, Juliana and I chose to include this because often, athletes and coaches are eager for a quick return. In fact, according to the Southwest Athletic Trainers Association, 15.8% of football athletes return to playing sports on the same day. With this rule, the doctor will be an unbiased third party that only cares about the well being of the athlete.
- While gear plays an important role in concussions, another contributing factor is being educated on the topic, thus we are requiring coaches to attend an annual seminar on concussions.
- Often, athletes are dishonest after a big hit because he/ she wants to continue playing. With stricter examinations, trainers can better protect the well being of the athlete.
- Having practice five days a week puts athletes in a very vulnerable position to get a concussion. Thus, Juliana and I are implementing the rule that coaches must practice safe drills that do not include contact when not necessary to prevent concussions during practice.
- In hopes of schools following these rules, we included consequences such as ineligibility to compete.
To test our prototype, we emailed schools in the Bay Area asking them questions about their precaution routines. The schools include , De le Salle, Saint Ignatius College Preparatory, Sacred Heart Cathedral, Hillsdale High School and Riordan High School.
We asked the schools four questions:
1) How often does someone inspect football helmets for damages?
2) How often are helmets replaced?
3) How common are concussions on your team?
4) How do you choose the type/brand of helmet for your team?
For the first question, 4/6 schools replied saying they inspect helmets every year after the season. Currently, there is no rule that requires helmets to be checked, but with at least 15-20 games per season, constant inspections should be expected.
For the second question, a majority of schools replied saying helmets are replaced every 3-4 years, with the obvious broken helmets being replaced immediately. In addition, the schools also send helmets to the manufacturer after every season to test the longevity of the helmet. Although helmets are being inspected annually, 3-4 years of usage is equivalent to about 300 uses and over 500 hits, which may prove to be unsafe for the athlete.
Generally, according to the coaches, more of the freshman and junior varsity players got concussed due to inexperience, which prove the importance of learning proper technique. Not only does the coach need to be educated, but the athlete should be too, especially regarding form.
For the last question, coaches answered saying they choose what is most comfortable and protective for the player, as well as where it is made.
Check out this info graph to see how coaches responded to our questions! (Due to privacy reasons, the schools which these answers are from are not displayed)
Overall, I think Juliana and my prototype could be improved by giving schools a supply of professionals to examine the helmets because some schools may not have the funding to hire a professional to inspect the helmets after each hit. In addition, the prototype could be improved with not only having a seminar on concussions but also having a seminar on proper technique for Junior Varsity and Freshman coaches to decrease the number of concussions on less experienced teams. From there, coaches can teach their teams proper technique in small sections as football teams tend to have large teams. With these improvements, hopefully concussions will decrease in youth sports and children will have a better chance to extend their time playing a sport they love.