The NFL released their concussion data and reported a 58% increase in the number of concussions sustained this football season. There was also an increase in the number of head to head collisions that led to a concussion. While it is good that athletes are being screened and picked up at a higher level, it is concerning that rule changes to limit head to head contact do not seem to working as of yet.
The new standard in youth football is to teach heads up contact. This means that athletes look at their opponent, engage their neck muscles and use their chest and shoulders to initiate contact. This tackling style has led to a decreased incidence of concussion in youth athletes. I think this focus on tackling is fantastic and I am hoping that it changes how athletes tackle when moving up their playing career. I am concerned, however, that professionals are not modeling proper tackling behavior.
If professionals do not use proper technique, how can we expect younger athletes to do so? When they watch their idols playing every weekend and using their head to make contact how can we tell them on Monday that they did it wrong? For concussion education and tackling technique to make an impact it has to be both a top down and bottom up approach. The rules need to be upheld and proper technique needs to be stressed in order for substantial change to occur. I fear that if we don't stress the importance of technique at every level that we will continue to see head to head contacts and concussion rates that don't change over time.
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