Brain, neck and spinal cord injuries during football games are not freak accidents that randomly befall an athlete out of the blue. The overwhelming majority result from players initiating contact with their head to tackle their opponent.
Most youth and high school football players are thrown into full speed contact drills as soon as the pads go on, without any instruction whatsoever. Poor and dangerous tackling techniques are either taught or not corrected when they occur during practice or in games.
Proper tackling technique is an acquired skill that, if not taught correctly, can lead to catastrophic neck or spinal cord injuries. For the most part, when it comes to tackling, coaches are teaching whatever technique their father's coach taught them, or what they heard at a coach's clinic etc.
I know from personal experience that being the parent of a youth or high school tackle football player is scary business. Back in 1997, when my son first asked me to sign him up to play tackle football, the fear of him getting hurt was tantamount in my mind. Having experienced several concussions during my college and pro football career, I knew firsthand the serious consequences of leading with the head to tackle a ball carrier.I wasn't so much afraid of my son getting bumps and bruises or even a broken bone or two. But I was deathly afraid of seeing my son not being able to get up off of the ground because of a serious head or neck injury.
The problem is that most parents don't have my extensive background of playing and coaching football, don't really know what causes head injuries other than not "keeping your head up!"
Most parents, players and unfortunately, far too many coaches don't know what causes a player's head to go down when making a tackle in the first place. Nor do they know how to get their kids to keep their heads up when tackling an opponent during a game or practice.
Teaching proper tackling technique
It doesn't have to be that way. Eighteen years ago I developed a way to teach the pulling linemen on my son's flag football team how to kick out block the end man on the line of scrimmage. At first my linemen were running straight up without any forward body lean. Consequently their blocks would end in a stalemate because they had no pop when they reached the defender.
So, I made a little device out of PVC pipe that looked like a hurdle from a track meet. It taught my linemen how to coil up and explode on the defender at the point of attack. Using it to train tackle football players was a natural transition. Getting much lower and locking your arms around a ball carrier is the only real difference between blocking and tackling. The coiling up the body and exploding the hips are the same.
The danger is bending the waist beyond a 45-degree angle, exposing the top of the head to high impact from an on coming ball carrier. Running full speed and crashing your body into another person is not a normal thing to do. It goes against the instincts of self-preservation. That is one of the reasons why players duck their head to make tackles, it's part of the "Fight or Flight" response all living creatures have.
A better way
There is a better way to educate players to the specific dangers that lead directly to headfirst impact and there is a better way to train players to avoid doing so during live football competition.
I invite all parents to visit my website to see how your child's league or high school football program can start better protecting him better against needless injury. Once you realize how easy it is to make the game safer, demand it of your league or school and if they don't want to pursue it don't let your child play football.
In my opinion, to know my system exists and to not employ it in a football program is tantamount to child abuse, child neglect and child endangerment!
There is a better way!
Created November 1, 2009