Student Well-Being

Alabama Athletic Association Considers Restricting Youth-Football Hits

By Bryan Toporek — March 07, 2013 2 min read
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The Alabama High School Athletic Association may start restricting hitting at youth-football practices to twice a week, AHSAA executive director Steve Savarese said last week, according to

“We have to make parents feel more comfortable with allowing their children to participate in contact sports,” Savarese said to the website. “President Obama said he would have to consider if he would allow his own child to play football. It’s a very strong statement. I don’t think we can just put that thought aside because there are a lot of parents saying that now.”

The AHSAA medical advisory board will make recommendations in April to the association’s board about the possibility of implementing hitting limits in practice. According to a joint Virginia Tech-Wake Forest study released last spring, the hardest hits for youth-football players typically occur during practice.

If the AHSAA does decide to limit contact in practice, the move wouldn’t be entirely without precedent. The Ivy League decided in July 2011 to start limiting their football teams two full-contact practices per week, three less than the National Collegiate Athletic Association allows. The National Football League’s most recent collective bargaining agreement also places restrictions upon hitting in practice by banning two-a-days and only allowing 14 full-contact practices during the 17-week regular season.

Last summer, Pop Warner instituted a ban on full-speed, head-on blocking and tackling drills with players lined up more than three yards apart. The organization also began to prohibit coaches from using more than one-third of practice time for contact drills.

Savarese told that practices are one of the most unregulated times for any high school sport. During games or competitions, referees and/or game officials can at least help keep coaches in check.

“What we try to do is educate our coaches, teach our coaches and hopefully create a more safe environment,” Savarese said to the website. “I met with all of our football coaches in the state and asked them, ‘What are you doing every day as far as collisions and contact?’ Not one of them disagreed with me about reducing head impacts.”

One of the prevailing theories in sports-concussion research is that any sort of head impact, not just one that causes a concussion, could result in long-term brain damage to student-athletes. According to a white paper released last February by the Sports Legacy Institute, youth-football players may average around 1,000 hits to the head per season.

The institute, in releasing last year’s white paper, called for all youth-sports organizations to alter their playing rules and limit the amount of head contact that student-athletes endure. Specifically, they proposed that no athlete under the age of 18 should 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 in a year.

With research suggesting that sports-related head impacts may reduce student-athletes’ learning ability, is it any wonder that one leading sports-concussion researcher wants to see tackle football limited to only student-athletes ages 14 and up?

As it turns out, a New York state lawmaker introduced a bill last month that would prohibit children under the age of 11 from playing tackle football.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.