Friday, June 18, 2021

Practice Like Pros: training to reduce concussions


For pro football players, only about 3 percent of concussions happen during practice; for high school football players, that number jumps to more than 60 percent. The Illinois High School Association is bringing in the pros to help Illinois high schools reduce the number of concussions players suffer during practice and make a dent in the number they suffer overall.

Jeff Immelt, left, General Electric’s chairman and CEO, and Roger Goodell, NFL commissioner, announce an initiative and research program in March 2013 to study concussions in an effort to improve player safety. (Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

Former Bears coach and NFL Hall of Famer Mike Ditka and Dartmouth College head football coach Buddy Teevens will lead a clinic on Aug 5 at the McDonald’s Conference Center in Oak Brook, and the IHSA will facilitate attendance at the free event for high school coaches, the association announced in a press release.

The Practice Like Pros football clinic is presented by Safe Kids Worldwide and Children’s MOTRIN®, and it will demonstrate progressive practice techniques for high school football players and coaches to use. Practice Like Pros is a national movement endorsed by Mr Ditka, Archie Manning, Warren Moon, Anthony Muñoz, Tony Dorsett, and other players and doctors. It began in February 2013 and has advocated on behalf of student-athletes for reducing contact on high school football practice fields. In the 28 months since the founding of Practice Like Pros, 40 states have voted to restrict such contact.

The clinic in Oak Brook will mark the end of this summer’s 10-state tour, which has included Illinois, Texas, Florida, Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, North and South Carolina, and Oklahoma.

Terry O’Neil, founder and CEO of Practice Like Pros, thanked the IHSA’s leadership team, including Craig Anderson and Executive Director Marty Hickman, for their initiative. “Their partnership on this tour recognizes an urgent need to reform high school football,” he said. “We will show coaches—not tell them, show them on video—non-contact and limited-contact drills that have made top levels of the game safer than high school football.”

Athletes that appeared on the tour this summer include

  • Cornelius Bennett, all-pro linebacker, Buffalo Bills, in his native Alabama
  • Mike Ditka, Hall of Fame player and coach, Chicago Bears, in Illinois
  • Tony Dorsett, Hall of Fame running back, Dallas Cowboys, in Texas
  • Maurice Jones-Drew, all-pro running back, Jacksonville Jaguars, in Oklahoma
  • Leonard Marshall, all-pro defensive lineman, New York Giants, in his native Louisiana
  • Rocky Seto, assistant head coach, Seattle Seahawks, at several sites
  • Buddy Teevens, head coach, Dartmouth College, at several sites (Florida, Texas, Illinois, …)
  • Aaron Whitecotton, defensive assistant coach, Jacksonville Jaguars, in Fla., Ala., N.C.
  • Sam Wyche, head coach, Cincinnati Bengals, Tampa Bay Bucs, in Ky., N.C., S.C.

High school concussion awareness better and still advancing

In the Proceedings of the Twenty-First World Congress on Anti-Aging Medicine & Regenerative Biomedical Technologies, published in March, authors note that recent changes to the rules in the NFL focus on play, such as stopping when a player’s helmet comes off, penalizing hits on “defenseless” players, and disallowing a launch to hit another player.

In youth football, the focus has been, appropriately, on practice routines and education, including age-specific contact drill practice plans and education programs for players, coaches, families, and athletic trainers. These changes have dramatically enhanced concussion awareness and may end up saving the game of football.

Helmets were once considered a line of defense against concussion in football, but in October 2012, the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine issued a position statement about concussion in sports. “Helmets, both hard (football, lacrosse, and hockey) and soft (soccer, rugby), are best suited to prevent impact injuries (fracture, bleeding, laceration, etc.) but have not been shown to reduce the incidence and severity of concussions,” the society wrote.

Football leagues, teams, and schools started looking for a better way to prevent concussions. Before the start of the fall 2014 season, Maryland officially adopted rule changes known as “heads-up tackling,” a program from USA Football. The vote followed implementation of an emergency rule change, which allowed important changes to take effect before a voting process, annual in most states, had finished. Most states, including Maryland, had already made changes by that time to restrict full-contact play, and national conferences had been conducted in an effort to produce national mandates to limit full-contact practices.

Since Mississippi passed a youth concussion law in January 2014—following a lawsuit there by the parent of a high school football player who had filed a concussion class action lawsuit against the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) and the NCAA—all 50 states have now enacted concussion laws to protect youth football players.

California took it a step further, when Gov Jerry Brown signed a law in July 2014 to prohibit full-contact tackling at practices for more than 90 minutes a day or two days a week during the season and to prohibit any full-contact play during the off-season for high school and middle school football. Illinois considered similar limits in April.

At that time, Voxitatis joined the editors of the Chicago Sun-Times in calling on Illinois schools to get tougher in the fight against traumatic brain injury in school sports. Education programs, like the one in Oak Brook on Wednesday, can’t hurt that cause, but a more substantive rule change is called for when it comes to reducing the number of concussions or traumatic brain injuries suffered by Illinois students playing a game they love.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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