SLI “Hit Count” Initiative

Sports Legacy Institute did in fact release their white paper today; it simply brings to the surface something that they along with others have been saying with more frequency.  Their initiative to create a Hit Count is a bold step and on that is welcomed, especially in light of the very current research from Purdue.

You can find the article on the SLI website (here) or you can read the final white paper .pdf here; there is a very good background for this idea and the simple yet powerful citation of research already performed in this area.  Their idea is mapped out very well, again the devil will be in the details as it all begins to be sorted out;

There are technological and monetary limitations to a pure Hit Count, as Hit Count systems currently are only sold for helmeted sports, and there are costs involved.  A Hit Count is not as simple as a pitch count, where coaches only need a pencil and paper.

However, hits to the head can be accurately estimated, and methods can be developed to approximate the brain trauma exposure during games and during practice based on known variables, like position.  With these estimations, rule changes and practice guidelines can be provided to ensure few, if any, athletes exceed a proposed limit.

Little League pitch counts are limits on the number of “pitches thrown per day” and mandate up to three days of rest after exposure to elbow trauma to allow the ulnar collateral ligament to recover.

A Hit Count should explore the following guidelines:

  1. Minimum threshold to be considered a “Hit”
  2. Maximum Hits per day (all counts stratified by age)
  3. Maximum Hits per week
  4. Maximum Hits per season
  5. Maximum Hits per year
  6. When the technology is available, should there be a “Total Force” threshold derived from number of hits times mean force per hit
  7. Minimum required days of rest after a minimum brain trauma exposure

In football, a Hit Count might lead to fewer practices that involve helmets and pads or the limits on the use of high impact drills. In soccer practice, it may mean tracking headers in practice and games. This policy is probably most critical to the youngest athletes, who may be at the greatest risk, and should receive less brain trauma than older athletes.

As noted the implementation of this may be difficult to get an accurate hit count for each individual, it is not like a pitcher where they are the only one on the field performing the specific task.  However, that being said and the limitations discussed in the white paper, simply reducing the number of full contact days will reduce the overall number of hits.

Until research can identify a more specific number we must educate the coaches, parents, and players to why this is a needed move; make them understand this is not only protecting them but the games themselves.

Although the spotlight is clearly on football the white paper also mentions soccer and rugby as sports that should consider the hit count as well.  I also believe that this too can be extrapolated to action sports and the other non-collision contact sports.

In the final part of the white paper SLI produced their goals;

The goal of this proposal is to have a Hit Count adopted by major youth sports organizations by 2013.

The next step will be to convene a meeting of experts, sports organizations, thought leaders, and industry to explore the current state of knowledge and the steps that would need to be taken to establish, adopt, and measure a Hit Count.

To start the conversation, we would like to propose that no athlete under 18 years-old be exposed to more than 1,000 hits to the head exceeding 10 g’s of force in a season, and no more than 2,000 times in a year. Many youth athletes already exceed this high threshold, and would not be allowed to finish a season.

I would say that is a fair starting point if we can accurately gauge the number of hits players receive.  I would also like to say that I am available to be part of said meeting, if by nothing else but a phone.

I think we all can agree that this is a good idea and starting point for my much larger/broader white paper that should be adopted as well.

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