With more than 100 medical experts amassed November 1-2 in Zurich, Switzerland, discussions included “how to best advance youth athlete safety and whether a specific age should be instituted on when to begin practicing specific skills such as heading in soccer and tackling in football.”
A panel of six experts, representing three continents and co-moderated by doctors STANLEY HERRING and ROBERT CANTU of the U.S., summarized the following in order “to vigilantly advance athlete safety and behavior modification:
- Teach youth athletes the proper techniques and fundamentals of their respective sports;
- Teach coaches, parents and youth athletes effective concussion recognition and response;
- Reduce and limit unnecessary contact in youth sports;
- Maximize rule enforcement of unsafe player behavior that puts the head at risk for injury;
- Make no alterations at present to specific ages already put forth by sports organizations for youth athletes to begin practicing skills such as heading in soccer, tackling in football, and body checking in ice hockey; and
- Continue research to learn the types and magnitudes of head forces for specific ages and sports to better understand the threshold of concussion.”
According to Dr. Herring, the director of sports spine and orthopedic health at University of Washington Medicine, “In football, it is essential to introduce proper tackling techniques early in a player’s career and to avoid unnecessary head contact. This is achieved through USA Football’s ‘Heads Up Football’ program, which is worthy of strong endorsement by experts in medicine and the youth football community.”
The “Heads Up Football” program parallels the Zurich panel’s recommendations in regards to teaching fundamentals, concussion recognition, and reducing contact. These recommendations include the training and accreditation of coaches, following concussion protocols established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and implementing “Heads Up Football’s” tackling techniques.
Change and adaptation is now. Player safety, not wins and losses, should always be uppermost in everyone’s mind.