Limit hits, limit concussions in young brains
February 3rd, 2012
05:18 PM ET

Limit hits, limit concussions in young brains

The adolescent football player's brain is rattled an average of 650 times per season. That's just an average. There are positions on the football field where the numbers approach 1,000 hits to the head.  And while a small fraction of those hits actually lead to a diagnosable concussion, the concern is that sub-concussive damage - the menacing smaller blows that add up during practices and games - could be as bad, or worse, for the brain.

With those sobering stats in mind, the Sports Legacy Institute Friday called for the adoption of a "Hit Count" - similar to the "Pitch Count" system used in baseball - for youth athletes participating in contact sports.

"In baseball you have a pitch count because research showed that the more times you threw in a day or during the season, the more risk that you would wear out the elbow," said Chris Nowinski, president and CEO of the SLI, a sports research advocacy group. "Trauma to the head can wear out the brain. So if you're going to limit trauma for elbows, then you should also limit it for the brain."

With a pitch count, the idea is to create a threshold of pitches to protect a player's elbow from excessive wear and tear. The same idea would hold for youth athletes participating in contact sports: A threshold for blows to the head which, when exhausted, would mean the end of the player's season.

"The idea is to minimize the exposure that a child can have per season," said Nowinski. "We need urgently to reform sports and get to a different place so that there is a limit to how many times a six-year-old is hit in the head for sports."

That six-year-old brain is fragile, developing. Concussive and sub-concussive blows have been shown in studies to stunt that development. And there is mounting evidence of potentially lethal consequences of brain blows for youth athletes.

"We regulate a lot of things in kids’ lives and brain trauma should be one of them," said Nowinski. "There are kids getting hit a thousand times a season. Is that good for children's development?"

SLI expects to begin a conversation about a threshold with scientists, coaches and other experts later this year. To begin with, SLI is proposing that players under 18 years-old amass no more than 1,000 hits exceeding 10g's to the head during a season - and no more than 2,000 during a year.  10g's or 10 times the force of gravity is about the force of a car getting rear-ended.

The idea behind the hit count may sound simple, but implementation could pose a challenge. The idea of changing any sport, especially football, is bound to have detractors. But resistance to rule changes at the NFL level gradually waned, and Nowinski hopes that the same might happen at the youth level.

"You've got the toughest men in the room [NFL players] saying there is no such thing as a tough brain," said Nowinski. "If the NFL is willing to do that, then we should do that for kids as well.”

soundoff (41 Responses)
  1. Leucadia Bob


    February 3, 2012 at 17:45 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jeff

      Too much Western medicine and thinking going on here. Yes better equipment is still needed but what if arm tackling was the norm and not hitting the guy with the ball? So blockers would block and tacklers tackle and the only hitting would be done BY the guy with the ball when avoiding the tackler.

      February 3, 2012 at 19:47 | Report abuse |
  2. Rob

    Anyone who has ever played the sport knows this cant work, especially in smaller schools where numbers are limited. So halfway through the season you now have no players that are eligible to play

    February 3, 2012 at 18:36 | Report abuse | Reply
    • c s

      In that case just shorten the season. Lets go back to having a four or five different sports in a year instead of such a concetration on football at such an early age. Sports are wonderful but they are only a part of most people's lives. Kids need to try different sports and not concetrate only on football. A person has only one brain and it has to last a lifetime.

      February 4, 2012 at 11:24 | Report abuse |
  3. AJ

    Why not wrap the kids in Bubble wrap or make a a rule that every player is allowed to run a TD (that's touch down for the author of this article because you have no clue what they're writing about). Pitch counts makes sense as this can damage a kids arm over time. Confusing tackling vs concussions? Since the 50's millions of players went through the system so start there with surveying old players and see how they tick. After reviewing this research then you can jump on the mommy band wagon for changes. Your editor should have made you do more research prior to this article.

    February 3, 2012 at 18:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. D F

    what about other sports like ice hockey/

    February 3, 2012 at 18:50 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Youth Hockey 101

      USA hockey ruled that Pee-Wee (12U) players are not allow to body-check (2011). Now most "Rec" leagues / local leagues has never allowed body checking for Pee-Wee level (not even in Canada). Also, the average hit count for entire match (both teams combined) is 50 and that is at the NHL level. Most players do not take more than 2-3 hits per game for all positions, which for football is not the case.

      February 3, 2012 at 19:44 | Report abuse |
  5. jimmy the freak

    It's the helmet. Football helmets are woefully inadequate in preventing sub-concussive injuries. The industry needs to get busy in redesigning the helmet to REALLY protect the brain. As much as I love football, I would never allow my boy to play. It
    s just too dangerous.

    February 3, 2012 at 18:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • humanbean

      No helmet on earth is going to stop a brain from banging around in a player's skull. Goes completely against the laws of motion. Best thing would be to go back to leather helmets so that there would be more emphasis put on proper tackling instead of launching yourself like a missile at opposing players.

      February 3, 2012 at 19:14 | Report abuse |
    • mike

      Agree about that. Very few actually tackle now. Today they just more or less ram into each other trying to knock each other off their feet. Remember the coachs always yelling to hit and wrap the legs when I was playing-

      February 3, 2012 at 20:22 | Report abuse |
  6. DC

    Limit hits, limit concussions? Sure, you can also limit car accidents by staying in your basement 24/7. What kind of dip-crap advice is this? If you don't want to get hurt playing 'contact sports' then DON'T PLAY CONTACT SPORTS!

    February 3, 2012 at 19:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • jad

      Well yes. But who is 'you'? Are you saying the kids 12 years old an under really have a strong choice in this? And do you trust their judgment? We don't let these kids vote, sign contracts, or drink.

      February 3, 2012 at 19:45 | Report abuse |
    • mike

      jad.....that is the parents job there. I hope the 12yr old isn't making the decisions for the parents and if he or she is it's obvious the parents shouldn't be parents.

      February 3, 2012 at 20:19 | Report abuse |
  7. Lewis

    if this hit rule was implemeted at my high school we would run out of students to play before the season was over.

    February 3, 2012 at 19:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Own Up

    If your a boxer your going to get punched in the face. If your a Football player your going to get tackled. If you play hockey............. If you don't want to get punched in the face, tackled, or get in a fight do not play these sports. There are other sports that require a person to not endure as much physical abuse. No one is forcing any one to put there health at risk, it is ultimately up to that person and their parents. There is even flag football out there. Please do not let the media destroy the last gladiator sports we have because of some squeamish spectators and mommas of players who shouldn't even be on the field. When is Muhammad Ali suing boxing????????????????????

    February 3, 2012 at 19:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Curmodgeon

    What a moronic idea. To begin with, as soon as you start 'limiting' hits, the players will react by not going full-out which I guarantee will lead directly to more serious injuries.

    Instead, spend the bucks necessary to involve head protection experts (Snell Foundation, Bell Helmets, et al) to develop a better method of head protection.

    February 3, 2012 at 19:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Steve

    This is laughable. It's football you morons. These guys are trained to hit from the time the start playing at very early ages. Aside from the obvious goal of winning the game, football is all about physical contact, hitting, and violence. It's not safe and you can try to provide better equipment to lessen the blow but you can't limit hitting. Come up with all the rules you want to, but players and coaches will figure out how to manipulate them.

    February 3, 2012 at 19:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. mike

    How in the world would they even implement this. Its easy to count pitches of a ball. Can see with this football leaving small school districts and small colleges. A pitching rotation is s different.

    February 3, 2012 at 20:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Dr. K

    Nowinski, Cantu, et al. are highly controversial. They use pseudoscience with bad methdology to publiciize their agenda. I've worked with TBI and concussions for 25 years, and absolutely agree that concussions need to be reduced among both pros and amateurs, but please don't buy this group's propaganda. They are the darlings of a small group of "journalists" whose motivation is to increase readership or viewing.

    February 4, 2012 at 07:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Awakened

    Football is a barbarian sport. It should be outlawed in schools. It's an oxymoron that our culture gives scholarships to kids that play the sport.

    February 4, 2012 at 15:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. awakened

    this a good idea

    February 5, 2012 at 12:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Old School

    Ironically, the "safer" equipment has led to a more dangerous game. With the supposed increased safety of contemporary equipment, players run around feeling invincible, which leads to reckless hits and plays at all levels.

    If you really want to make the game safer, take the face masks off the helmets (at least) and force players to tackle with their shoulders and arms instead of turning the human head into an on-field ballistic weapon by encasing it in hard plastic.

    February 6, 2012 at 06:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. SilentBoy741

    I want to see all players run around in giant hamster balls. Not for safety, I just think it would look funny.

    February 6, 2012 at 16:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Syed

    Seattle looks horrible. The Chargers are aawyls close to the top but what I wonder about is if the Chiefs will be able to repeat what they did last year.Remember the quarterback Cassel was amazing at the Patriots which landed him the job at the Chiefs in the first place.All I know so far is that seattle choke-hawks are going to be horrible. Hey JD will you have any pre-season picks this weekend bud? I figured there would be none today but am kind of hoping for some action this weekend. Glad to hear you had a good time fishing. I have a 3 year old daughter and she caught her first fish this summer but it was a catfish. We used a bobber and stink bait.Those kind of moments make being a daddy the best feeling in the world.

    March 4, 2012 at 00:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Thermopraxis

    There is something that can be done now and your help is needed to spread the word about it. Thermopraxis has created a revolutionary in-helmet device that can be used to drastically reduce the devastating consequences of concussions using therapeutic hypothermia (cooling). The sooner this product reaches the market, the sooner these types of injuries can be reduced in helmet-wearing athletes. For more information, please see the Concussion Crisis Solution Campaign on YouTube and http://www.thermopraxis.com.

    May 18, 2012 at 15:49 | Report abuse | Reply
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