NFHS Develops Concussion Guidelines for Football

In what has been a long time coming the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) has released the long-awaited guidelines from their concussion summit in July.  The NFHS is basically the governing body that most, if not all, states look to when implementing rule changes in sports, policies for participation and for sports medicine advice/guidelines.  Many states do not act, even with good information, with out the NFHS “seal of approval”.

This has been evidenced in the past when it comes to concussion “mitigation”, in terms of undue risk – contact limitations.  There have been many states that have not waited for the NFHS (California, Arizona, Wisconsin come to mind) while there are others that sat on their hands regarding this topic.  Regardless of where your state is/was it now has some guidelines to follow when it comes to the controversial topic of impact exposure.

Before I post the full press release from the NFHS, I would like to highlight the recommendations from the 2014 NFHS Recommendations and Guidelines for Minimizing Head Impact;

  • “Live” and “Thud” are considered full-contact
    • I really like that there is a clear definition
  • Full-contact should be allowed in no more than 2-3 practices a week; 30 min a day and between 60-90 minutes a week.  Only glossed over was the fact that theNFHS strongly suggests that there should not be consecutive days of full-contact.
    • A great place to start, although there are a vast majority of programs, around here, that do not do more than 2-3 times a week.
    • The time limits are great.
    • Unaddressed is the specific back-to-back days of games to practice.  For example a Monday game and Tuesday full-contact practice.  Sure common sense should prevail, but there will be plenty of loophole finding on this issue.
  • Recognition of preseason practices needing more contact time to develop skills.
    • Obviously a sign that these guidelines are taking everything into consideration.
  • During 2-a-days only one session should be contact.
    • THANK YOU!
  • Review of total quarters played for each player
    • This has been one of my biggest points of contention with any concussion policy.  The risk for injury during a game is much higher and kids that play multiple levels have an exponentially higher risk.
    • Although nothing more was stated than above, this should get people talking and moving.  The issue, of course, will be monitoring this.  Regardless, the fact that this important point is included is a massive thumbs up!
  • Considerations for contact limits outside of traditional fall football season
    • Acknowledging the ever-growing practice of off-season practices.
  • Implementing a coach education program
    • Ideal for understanding all of this and the issues we face.
  • Education of current state laws and school policies (if schools don’t have one they should)
    • Putting pressure on the institutions to take some onus.
  • Emergency Action Plans (EAP) and Athletic Trainers should be utilized
    • AT’s should be at both games and practices.
    • EAP’s should be in place and the best person for taking care of an EAP is an AT.
    • The first “governing” body that has firmly suggested the use of athletic trainers for football at all levels in practice and games.  This is truly noteworthy, and appreciated.

Auspiciously omitted from this document was USA Football’s “Heads Up” tackling program.  They referenced the USA Football definitions of level of contact and coaching courses; but never mention the embattled “Heads Up” program.  I must say, my confidence in the NFHS has skyrocketed after reading this, and a lot has to do with the people on the task force.  I am looking squarely at: Mark Lahr, Tory Lindley, Steve McInerney and John Parsons.  Those gentleman are of the highest quality and character when it comes to athlete safety.

Here is the full press release…  Continue reading

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Rules of the Game

I have waited about five days to collect my thoughts on this and honestly let my emotions calm a bit.  As some know I can be a bit outspoken and harsh at times but I wanted to refrain from letting emotion get in the way of an important message.  Yes, this post will be mainly about football, but don’t view it as an attack on the sport so many of us, including me, love.

This season across all the levels of play in football there has been a larger emphasis placed on player safety, most notably contact to and with the head while playing football.  It is a FACT that the helmet in football was designed and remains a protective device not a weapon or offensive piece of equipment.  Using the helmet in the later fashion is and should always be a penalty for both sides of the ball.  This is nothing new; since the mid 1970’s “spearing”, “face tackling” and “butt-blocking” (scroll to page 32 of that link) have been outlawed in the sport.  However, routinely those events on the football field are rarely called, now in 2013 there is an emphasis on these types of infractions.  Now there is a caveat of this type of action on the field called “targeting” which at the college level can have a player ejected if egregious enough. (BTW, that picture is a placard that was made in 70’s)

Before I go further, I would like to say that officiating at the high school and lower levels is a thankless job.  The pay is not life changing and most do it as a hobby.  Sure, I have seen some officials that the game has passed by or is too fast for them, but I have also seen men and women that do Yeoman’s work with nothing more than a handshake for a job well done.  It’s not easy folks, I have done it, but done correctly and consistently it is a thing of beauty.  At the college and pro levels these people do great work and often have other jobs besides being on TV and getting players, coaches and fans mad at them.  I can assure you they are doing the best they can.  But, I feel the game of football resides in their and coaches hands, for survival.

At the high school level in our state I know that officials have been told to watch out for targeting and the use of the helmet above the shoulders; this has helped at the cost of adjudicating the other, more established rules from the 70’s.  I have seen four flags in five games for “targeting”/”spearing” above the shoulders; I have seen zero flags for “spearing” when it was below the shoulders.  I didn’t write down every occurrence of these types of tackles in each of my games, however, I can vividly recollect at least 10 instances of spearing on both teams.  Side note here, if I see one of our players do it they get quite the ass chewing from me on the sidelines.

People need to realize that tackling with the head-down is not a safety measure for the person getting tackled, it is a safety measure for Continue reading

New High School Helmet Rule

We have all seen it, the rolling helmet on a play that has seemed to have lost its player.  Now if this occurs, not due to a penalty, the player will have to sit out the next play.  This is one of eight rules/changes that the National Federation of State High School Associations announced in a NFHS Football Rules Press Release 2012;

INDIANAPOLIS, IN (February 9, 2012) — High school football players must sit out one play next year if their helmet comes off while the ball is live. In cases where the helmet comes completely off without it being directly attributable to a foul by the opponent, the player will have to leave the game for at least one down.  This addition to Rule 3-5-10 was one of eight rules changes approved by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Football Rules Committee at its January 20-22 meeting in Indianapolis. All rules changes were subsequently approved by the NFHS Board of Directors.  “The committee made this rules change after reviewing data from multiple states regarding the frequency of helmets coming off during live-ball play,” said Julian Tackett, chair of the Football Rules Committee and commissioner of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association. “It is the committee’s hope that this serves notice for schools to properly fit players with helmets to reduce the incidence of these situations and remind the players not to take steps that alter the fit.”

Of the other seven rule changes Continue reading

The Winter Wednesday’s

The football season is officially over, however that does not mean the concussion risk is gone.  Yes, it will be reduced slightly, but awareness is continued and the importance of an athletic trainer is underscored more.  During the winter months we will spend time blogging about the life of an athletic trainer, what I do, and what we can do for schools.

It is now postseason for sports here in Illinois the time is now for teams to be at their best as the winner moves on.  The state-series here in Illinois includes every high school participating in the sport.  First is the Regionals where 5-8 teams at 32 sites begin the march to a state title (speaking of basketball), if the team advances they move on to Sectionals at 8 sites where 4 teams vie for a birth into Super Sectionals where 2 teams face of for a Final Four birth.

This time of year is full of emotions like; excitement, happiness, and sadness.  As an athletic trainer the excitement usually wins out until your team gets eliminated (and for the very few elation if they win it all).  Part of our dealings with the school include post-season coverage including travel to away sites, this is where the excitement comes in.

Traveling to other schools that you usually have very little interaction with is exciting, a chance to reacquaint with other athletic training peers, or administrations you know allows us to network.  Continue reading