A Heads-Up for Football Safety

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The future of pediatrics will be forged by thinking differently, breaking paradigms and joining together in a shared vision of tackling the toughest challenges before us.”
- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO
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Wellness Library

A Heads-Up for Football Safety

In school sports, football is the leading cause of sports-related injuries for children in the U.S. And, thanks to some changes, it is safer than it used to be--especially for younger, lighter kids.

Thirty or more years ago, kids were often encouraged to block and tackle using their heads, a move called spearing. But that maneuver put youngsters at risk for potentially fatal head and neck injuries. Blocking and tackling with the head was the direct cause of 36 football deaths and 30 injuries involving permanent paralysis in 1968, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research (NCCSI). In 1976, the rules were changed, barring leading with the head while blocking and tackling.

In the 2010 season, the latest period that statistics are available from the NCCSI, five players' deaths were directly related to football. Two of the five deaths reported involved high school football players. 

Football also may be indirectly responsible for fatal conditions, such as heat stroke, fatal cardiac arrhythmia, head injuries, and asthma. In 2010, the NCCSI says, there were 11 deaths indirectly attributed to football; this figure included semiprofessional, college, high school, and youth teams.

Do not lead with the head

Coaches should tell players not to tackle or block with their heads or run head-down with the ball.

Other tips

The NCCSI and other experts also recommend these safety tips:

  • Athletes should have a prepractice physical exam, which may include an electrocardiogram, a noninvasive cardiovascular screening test.

  • Teams should have insurance for catastrophic injury.

  • Teams should have medical assistance on hand at practices and games.

  • Teams should have an automatic external defibrillator at practices and games, as well as someone trained to use it.

  • Coaches should teach conditioning exercises that will strengthen young athletes' necks. A strong neck makes it easier to hold the head up firmly when making a block or tackle.

  • Coaches should inspect each player's equipment, especially the helmet, to see that it fits properly.

  • Players should be given free access to water and electrolyte fluids (for example, Gatorade), and coaches should consider not holding outdoor practice in extreme heat and humidity.

  • Teams should provide immediate medical care for a player who experiences or has symptoms of a head injury; this includes loss of consciousness, vision problems, headache, difficulty walking, disorientation, and memory loss. The player should not return to practice or to a game on the day of the injury, and should not return at all without clearance from medical authorities. The coach should never make the decision on whether or not the player is able to resume play.

  • The coach or the team doctor should make players aware of the symptoms of possible head injury and should encourage players to tell him or her if they experience any of these symptoms, including headaches.

Online Medical Reviewer: Bass, Pat F. III, MD, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Finke, Amy, RN, BSN
Last Review Date: 10/22/2012
© 2000-2014 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

We can't find this page

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Still can't find what you need? Contact Us.

Request an Appointment

If this is a medical emergency, please dial 9-1-1. This form should not be used in an emergency.

Patient Information
Date of Birth:
Contact Information
Appointment Details
Send RequestIf you do not see the specialty you are looking for, please call us at: 617-355-6000.International visitors should call International Health Services at +1-617-355-5209.
Please complete all required fields

This department is currently not accepting appointment requests online. Please call us at: 617-355-6000. International +1-617-355-6000.

This department is currently not accepting appointment requests online. Please call us at: 617-355-6000. International +1-617-355-6000.

Thank you.

Your request has been successfully submitted

You will be contacted within 1 business day.

If you have questions or would like more information, please call:

617-355-6000+1-617-355-6000
close
Find a Doctor
Search by Clinician's Last Name or Specialty:
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Show Items Starting With: *ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ
View allSearch
Visitor Information
“
The future of pediatrics will be forged by thinking differently, breaking paradigms and joining together in a shared vision of tackling the toughest challenges before us.”
- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO
Close