With the concussion fog that has hung around football the past several seasons, coaches are working harder than ever to make sure their practices are as safe as possible for their guys.
According to a new study highlighted by The Huffington Post, the key to making your practices safer may lie in practicing without a helmet.
“The concept of practicing drills tackling and blocking without a helmet on is novel to the sport of American football,” said the study's lead author Erik E. Swartz of the University of New Hampshire, who played rugby for a number of years.
Swartz points out that since helmets aren't used in rugby, players learn to not lead with their head, but in football, that helmet can lead to a false sense of security.
For the study, Swartz and his colleagues divided 50 members of the New Hampshire (FCS) football team into two groups during preseason practices and outfitted them with head impact senors. 25 of them did five minute tackling drills without their helmets and shoulder pads twice a week, while the other 25 players continued on with their usual routine. The results showed that the group that did the tackling drills without helmets and shoulder pads had 30% fewer head impact per practice and game than the other group who followed the normal practice routine.
Directly from the Huffington Post piece.
"In the helmetless tackling group, head impacts per practice or game fell from almost 14 in the preseason period, to 10 at the end of the season. At the end of the season, players in the comparison group were still having more than 14 head impacts per game or practice."
At face value, it's definitely something that makes a lot of sense, but since the results came from a relatively small pool, Swartz noted in the piece that they aren't ready to do any sort of widespread implementation with their findings just yet.
“Eventually what we hope is to develop a program on any level of play, high school, college or pro, of a practice technique without the helmet," he noted.
Perhaps this research will spark coaches and the football industry to look beyond creating helmets and other gadgets that minimize concussion risks, and focus on how we can structure practice to make things safer.