The Pop Warner youth football group issued new practice guidelines this week in an attempt to reduce concussions and head injuries among the more than 400,000 children who participate in youth football leagues in the United States. Pop Warner is a major source and feeder system for high school, college, and professional football – more than 70% of NFL players got their start in football through a Pop Warner league.
The new practice guidelines have two parts that are designed to reduce the chances of concussions in children who play football:
- Eliminate full speed head-on blocking or tackling drills in which the players line up more than 3 yards apart (this reduces forward speed before the players make contact with each other)
- Total contact drill time is limited to 1/3 of total practice time
The new guidelines are as much a marketing and PR effort as they are a practical attempt to begin the process of changing a deeply entrenched playing culture in football. It remains to be seen if players, coaches, parents, and fans will accept these new limits.
As predicted in this January post, meaningful change in the culture of US football will happen first at the youth and high school level, before slowly percolating up to college and professional teams. Given the huge financial stakes involved at the top level, I believe this process will take decades.