Youth Concussion Crisis: Big Changes Coming to Kids' Football

On Wednesday, Pop Warner, the nation's largest youth football organization, announced some rule changes that could significantly alter how the overall game is played.

During Pop Warner practices, players are no longer permitted to line up more than three yards apart during blocking and tackling drills.

Additionally, contact drills are only allowed to take place for one-third of practice time -- by Pop Warner standards, that's about 40 total minutes of each practice.

According to the Pop Warner Web site, approximately 425,000 kids, ranging in age from five to 16, participate in the nonprofit's youth football, cheer and dance programs. To date, there are 12 Pop Warner leagues throughout Texas.

These modifications come on the heels of the growing concussion crisis that's been zeroed in on professional sports. Last summer, the Press published its findings regarding the effects of repeated blows to the head in youth athletes -- and not just football players -- in the story "Knocked Out."

In essence, Pop Warner has instituted a "hit count," an idea that has been suggested by Eric Nauman, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University.

Over the course of two years, Nauman and his fellow researchers cataloged (via the use of helmet-sensor technology) every practice and game hit sustained by members of an Indiana high school football team. The findings, published in February, conclude that "concussions are likely caused by many hits over time and not from a single blow to the head, as commonly believed."

Says Nauman, "In the NFL, they really don't hit until the regular season starts. If you're a lineman and you play 50 plays, you take about 50 blows to the head over the course of that week. The high school players not only hit during games, but they also hit throughout the course of the week, at least two practices a week.

"One of the things that we're thinking will happen is there will be a hit count. If you've taken a certain amount of hits that week in practice, you may or may not be allowed to play in the game."

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Steve Jansen is a contributing writer for the Houston Press.
Contact: Steve Jansen