With football season in full swing, the American Academy of Pediatrics has released a new policy statement to help improve player safety on the field.
The new recommendations, which were presented at the AAP National Conference & Exhibition in Washington, D.C. stress proper tackling technique in order to reduce the likelihood of injury, and also advocate for the expansion of non-tackling leagues so that players may participate in the sport without the risk of injury associated with tackle football.
“It’s this paradox that makes it so important for leagues to teach proper tackling technique and skills to avoid and absorb tackles, even if no tackling occurs throughout the seasons,” said co-author Greg Landry, MD, FAAP.
Additionally, the AAP recommends that officials and coaches enforce zero tolerance for illegal, head-first hits, and advise that athletic trainers should be present on the sidelines in order to help prevent and address injuries. Ultimately, players must decide if the benefits of playing football outweigh the risks of injury.
“Removing tackling would dramatically reduce the risk of serious injuries to players, but it would fundamentally change the sport of football,” said co-author William Meehan, III, MD, FAAP. “Parents and players will need to decide whether the health risks associated with tackling are outweighed by the recreational benefits of the game.”
AAP members reviewed scientific evidence on football-related injuries, especially those of the head and neck, and found that injuries of the head and neck only account for a small proportion of overall injuries, but are often more serious. Nearly 65% of concussions occur when tackling or being tackled, with brain injury accounting for 69% of all football fatalities. The researchers also found that football players are among team athletes with the highest risk for catastrophic cervical spine injuries, which are often the result of “spear tackling,” or tackling with the head lowered.
While tackling or being tackled accounts for approximately 50% of all football injuries, the AAP stress that delaying the introduction of tackling when a player is younger and smaller may actually increase rates of injury when a player is older and larger due to less experience tackling with proper technique.
Beyond teaching and enforcing proper tackling technique, the AAP recommends that players engage in neck muscle strengthening in order to decrease neck fatigue and improve muscle contraction, which may decrease the risk of concussion.
“The AAP encourages athletes to continue playing organized sports, while supporting coaches and officials in their work to reduce these injuries,” said Dr. Meehan.