Although 70% of football players in the United States are youth players (6–14 years old), most research on head impacts in football has focused on high school, collegiate, or professional populations. The objective of this study was to identify the specific activities associated with high-magnitude (acceleration > 40g) head impacts in youth football practices.
A total of 34 players (mean age 9.9 ± 0.6 years) on 2 youth teams were equipped with helmet-mounted accelerometer arrays that recorded head accelerations associated with impacts in practices and games. Videos of practices and games were used to verify all head impacts and identify specific drills associated with each head impact.
A total of 6813 impacts were recorded, of which 408 had accelerations exceeding 40g (6.0%). For each type of practice drill, impact rates were computed that accounted for the length of time that teams spent on each drill. The tackling drill King of the Circle had the highest impact rate (95% CI 25.6–68.3 impacts/hr). Impact rates for tackling drills (those conducted without a blocker [95% CI 14.7–21.9 impacts/hr] and those with a blocker [95% CI 10.5–23.1 impacts/hr]) did not differ from game impact rates (95% CI 14.2–21.6 impacts/hr). Tackling drills were observed to have a greater proportion (between 40% and 50%) of impacts exceeding 60g than games (25%). The teams in this study participated in tackling or blocking drills for only 22% of their overall practice times, but these drills were responsible for 86% of all practice impacts exceeding 40g.
In youth football, high-magnitude impacts occur more often in practices than games, and some practice drills are associated with higher impact rates and accelerations than others. To mitigate high-magnitude head impact exposure in youth football, practices should be modified to decrease the time spent in drills with high impact rates, potentially eliminating a drill such as King of the Circle altogether.