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Hazards in the Huddle

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According to Dr. Glaser, as young people’s bodies begin to mature, their bones lengthen at a faster rate than their connective tissues. Physiologically, they have to do more with less. Their bones and muscles allow the young men to perform athletically at an impressive level, but their lagging connective tissues may become their Achilles heel.

“Everybody wants to see that big hit,” Dr. Glaser said, but no child-player should ever feel pressured to make that hit.

Dan Hedman, whose son Seth played youth football for five years, played at Holland Hall and now plays linebacker for Drake University, said that part of injury prevention is developing strength and agility through training and a proper diet.

“If you are more flexible, you can withstand that awkward bend, if you are more agile, you can avoid the unexpected, if you are faster you can get away from the mass of bodies, if you are stronger, you are less likely to be pushed around,” Coach Hedman said. “The better athlete you are, the more likely you are to be able to overcome and avoid accidental injury.”

Consequences of Concussions

Studies are linking concussions to mental and physical ailments later in life. Stories of college and NFL football players suffering from the consequences of multiple concussions are popping up in news outlets regularly. A study completed by the University of North Carolina confirmed that for student-athletes who had suffered three concussions, the risk of depression was two times that of a player who had never received a concussion. Those who suffered concussions also reported having more problems with memory, concentration, speech impediments and other neurological problems than players who had never had a concussion.

Findings such as these have prompted Ivy League colleges this year to reduce the number of allowable full-contact practices teams can hold. The N.C.A.A. guidelines allow five full-contact practices per week during the season, while the new Ivy League rules allow only two. The rules were implemented because, according to a study in the Journal of Athletic Training, college players sustain more total hits to the head in practices than in games.

New rules such as these can impact youth and high school football as well. Coach Hedman said that, besides the helmet, coaches must make sure that players understand proper tackling techniques.

According to a study done at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the number of fatal football-related head injuries was at an all-time high in 1965-1974 because blocking and tackling tactics known as “spearing, butt blocking, face to the numbers, and face in the chest” were being taught. A 1976 rule change that prohibited initial contact with the head or face “resulted in a dramatic decrease in both fatal head and cervical spine injuries.”

A University of Pittsburgh study on children ages 7 to 13 participating in community organized baseball, softball, soccer and football found that catastrophic head injuries in high school football players are “dramatically higher” than in college players. The researchers were unclear about the reason behind the discrepancy, but speculated that it was because “an unacceptably high percentage of high school players were playing with residual symptoms from a prior head injury.” The study underscored the value of having coaches, athletic trainers, medical personnel and the athletes themselves educated about head injuries, and the need to keep those players from returning to the field.

“Football is a demanding sport that involves not only speed, strength and size, but physical contact,” Coach Hedman said. “As dramatic as football’s violent collisions look, very few injuries happen in those moments, most are accidents. The athlete has a built-in sense of injury prevention and football coaches mostly teach proper techniques that prevent injuries. [A player] should never use his helmet to make contact. Most coaches teach tackling using these simple reminders: Eyes up, head in front, hit with the shoulder, grab cloth.”

“If he ever decided he wanted to stop, that’d be the end of it,” Laurie said.

Keeping It In Perspective

Jarrett’s parents have turned his love of football into a family affair. They attend the Jenks-Union rivalry games, and TU games. When they travel for games, they visit new schools, and eat at new restaurants. They try the local flavor when they visit a town for a game. The whole family gets involved. “You can really make a day of it,” Laurie said. 

For the Skaggs’, football is not about Jarrett putting points on the board, or racking up QB sacks, its about Jarrett having fun. He is under no pressure to suit up and take the field every day. He does so because he loves it. He walks around the house with a football in his hands. He’s taught his younger brother and sister how to throw, and how to catch.

“If he ever decided he wanted to stop, that’d be the end of it,” Laurie said. 



Here are some tips from Dr. Glaser and Coach Skaggs to ensure your child enjoys football in the safest way possible:

• In this heat, it’s important to weigh yourself before and after practice to keep track of water loss. For every pound lost, drink 20 oz. of water.

• Consult your pediatrician regularly, and keep an open dialogue. Ask, “Is this safe?”

• Talk about it with your child. Be sure he is doing it for the right reasons, and that he knows both the benefits and risks involved.

• Remember, it’s a game.

• Take concussions seriously. If you think there is even a small chance that your son has received a concussion, pull him from play immediately and see a doctor.

• Your son may be tempted to take dietary supplements like creatine, or protein. Dr. Glaser says that milk is the absolute best supplement for athletes. It has everything the body needs after a workout.


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