The number of head injuries in sports, we are finally starting to see progress in that direction. In particular, youth sports organizations are taking a much closer look at this since studies have shown that younger participants are more susceptible to longer-term damage if they suffer a concussion at a young age. But as the title of this article suggests, the changes are only considered modest at best and aren’t intended to change the particular sport radically. However, any effort to reduce concussion injuries is clearly a step in the right direction.
And it’s not just youth sports that realize changes are necessary. The National Football League, probably the most violent competition there is, a game primarily based on hard hits to players, has also jumped on board with their version of modest rule changes. Last March at the Annual NFL Team Meetings, NFL clubs voted to make some rules change intended to improve the health and safety of players. Some of the critical changes that the league agreed upon are as follows.
- Extend the rule changing the spot of the next snap after a touchback resulting from a free kick to the 25-yard line for another year. This rule is intended to provide the incentive for the receiving team to take the ball at the 25-yard line rather than risk a violent hit and worse field position if running it out.
- Give a receiver running a pass route defenseless player protection. This rule will hopefully help receivers from vicious hits when they are in the air and watching the ball and are vulnerable to a head impact they probably don’t see coming.
- Prohibit crackback blocks by a backfield player who is in motion, even if he is not more than two yards outside the tackle when the ball is snapped.
The NFL is also making some changes to how games are being officiated. Several new “points of emphasis” are in play for officials. For instance, one of them focuses on violent hits to the quarterback. A defensive player cannot “wrap” a quarterback at the knee area or below to bring him down. That type of hit can many times cause the quarterback’s head to make contact with the ground creating the possibility of a concussion.
An additional point of emphasis for officials is on flagrant hits. In the past, players could be immediately ejected from the game with a flagrant hit. But now the league is also looking at those hits from the league office and opening the possibility of a suspension for that player, even if they are a first-time offender.
To review the full story titled “Health and Safety-Related Changes for the 2017 Season”, you can follow this link https://www.playsmartplaysafe.com/focus-on-safety/protecting-players/health-safety-related-changes-2017-season/
But the issue of concussions in sports can be traced back the nature of the sport itself. Many games open the possibility of head injuries only because of the contact allowed within the rules of the competition. Sure, not all sports are considered contact sports, but many are. And the only real way to try and limit harmful contact is to make some rule changes that will outlaw parts of the game that provides the most significant risk of a head injury.
Which takes us back to youth sports, where kids who are just starting out in organized sports learn to play the game. Implementing some meaningful rule changes at the youth level is a good start. And we are starting to see just that. Although still somewhat modest, it’s a sign we are moving in the right direction and that people are beginning to understand the risks of head injuries at an early age.
In an article in the Chicago Post Tribune from February 2017 titled, “ Youth football changes set to head off concussion rate,” a set of new proposed rules were discussed aimed at reducing head injuries in youth football. USA Football, the country’s governing body for Pop Warner football, recently agreed that changes needed to be made to better ensure the safety of the players, who range in age from 5 to 14.
USA Football considers these changes a pilot program that they rolled out in a few select leagues throughout the country during the 2017 season. A separate article by NPR titled, “Big Rule Changes Could Make Youth Football Games A Whole Lot Smaller” did an excellent job summarizing these proposed changes. Here are some of the highlights of these recommended changes.
- A smaller playing field, which would shrink the standard 100-yard area to a length of 40 yards. The smaller size allows a typical field to be split in half so that two separate games can be played on the same surface at once.
- Fewer players on each side. In a typical game, 11 players for each team would be on the field at once; in the modified version USA Football plans to audition, that number will be reduced to seven — though it hasn’t ruled out the possibility of anywhere from six to nine.
- There will be no special teams. In other words, that means no special groups in a bid to cut down on the punishing open-field hits those plays often involve.
- Players at the line of scrimmage cannot use a “three-point stance” — a body position that allows for considerable leverage and more power off the line.
- Players must rotate positions, rather than specialize in just one.
- Coaches must ensure players of equal size are matched up against each other.
USA Football Communications Manager Tom Yelich looks at this new proposal as a cross between regular full contact football and flag football. The apparent goal of these changes is to try and reduce the number of hits players take and to protect these young youth football players as much as possible.
In the Post Tribune article, it was also stated that over the last few years, Pop Warner had instituted rule changes aimed at limiting contact in practices and teaching new tackling techniques to address the growing concern with head safety. With the possibility of these other new rule change proposals, the thought is that it will provide even further player safety.
But one of the proposed changes is questioned in the Post Tribune article. Tom Troy, father, and coach of his son’s Pop Warner team, feels the proposal to match up players of equal size may be counterproductive down the road.
“I think they don’t realize you put that kid in more danger when he’s not prepared to tackle that kid 20 pounds heavier than him,” said Troy, who has two sons that play football.
“When you get to middle and high school some of those kids are beasts,” he said. “Now you aren’t used to playing against those guys, and you were a superstar when you were younger because you were playing kids all the same size and now all of a sudden you’re going up against this big guy. I think mentally and physically it can actually unprepare you rather than prepare you.”
However, the effort being made by USA Football is a noble one. So much more is known about the long-term effects of concussions but there is so much more that we still don’t know. Attempting to provide as much safety as possible at an early age is a good way to start.
But football is not the only sport where safety is being looked into. Youth soccer leagues are also looking to get on board. An article from June 2016 in the Lincoln Journal Star titled “Rule change aims to prevent concussions in young soccer players” covered changes made by the Nebraska State Soccer Association aimed at player safety and reducing head injuries.
The rule prohibits players age 11 and younger from heading the soccer ball in games or practices. Nebraska joins Iowa, Kansas, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, and Ohio in banning the practice for players under the age of 11, even if those players play in older age groups.
Dennis Molfese, founding director of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Center for Brain, Biology, and Behavior, states that circumstantial evidence indicates sub-concussive blows occur when players head a soccer ball. Those smaller bumps may have a cumulative effect on a player’s susceptibility to suffering a concussion — especially in younger players.
Developing brains under the age of 14 are more susceptible to sustain an injury through contact sports, and children who suffer concussions often experience effects longer than adults, he said.
“We’ve seen cases where the negative effects from a single concussion — things like sleep disturbances, having a hard time maintaining an even keel as far as emotions go, chronic migraines — last three to four years after the concussion was experienced,” he said.
And once a person has suffered a concussion, the risk of suffering a second concussion rises dramatically.
The article went on to discuss how heading the ball, even at an older age, requires proper technique and training. But older players are physically more developed and able to use the correct method due to more body control and a stronger physique.
So from youth sports all the way up to the NFL, an awareness of the danger of head injuries and the effects that a concussion can have on players young and old is becoming more recognized. At least they are discussing how to try and prevent concussions, which is leading to these modest changes in how the games are played.
For the safety of players both young and old alike, the hope is that we continue to see changes that will have a positive effect in the area of brain trauma. And as more and more research becomes available, which can include early diagnosis and treatment of concussions, the long-term effects of an injury such as this can hopefully be diminished.
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