The Pop Warner Football League will limit the amount of time players can participate in contact drills, ESPN reports. Starting next season, contact drills will be allowed only during a third of the total practice time to decrease the chance of player injury. The new rules directly challenge the idea that full contact is one of the pillars of American football, a contention that flies in the face of many years of football culture in America and abroad.
"There are times when people and organizations have to evolve, and this is that time," said Dr. Julian Bailes, a neurosurgeon and chair of the Pop Warner Medical Advisory Board. "For the future of the sport, we need to morph it now and take the unnecessary head contact out of the game. If parents were considering allowing their child to play football, this (move) should assure them."
Pop Warner is one of the largest youth football leagues in the country, and it is expected that once the rule goes into effect, smaller youth leagues will follow suit with similar changes. The league introduced the new rule in response to recent findings from studies that are looking at football-related head injuries. One such study, from Virginia Tech, showed that second graders are regularly subjected to the same collision forces as college players, as a result of hits delivered by other players. The news story that Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy was discovered after brain tissue biopsy of a dead teenager who was a football player, also stood on the head the previous estimates of how long people can take regular hits to the head before they suffer permanent brain injuries.
Bailes said his committee was particularly swayed by research suggesting that brains can be damaged not only from the big hits seen more commonly at the high school and adult levels but from smaller, more repetitive, sub-concussive blows experienced by players at all levels. Also, he said, most head injuries happen in practice.
Pop Warner executives anticipate pushback from youth coaches who may not want to change their ways, Bailes said. But the 83-year-old organization has support from at least one well-known coach, who in turn contends that most coaches at the college and NFL levels share his opinion.
Legendary coach Nick Saban, now at Alabama, said that he supports the change since it is similar to the rule in place in his program. Contact drills are kept to a minimum at Alabama, to make sure that players are ready to go at gametime. Youth coaches should follow the strict rules as a matter of course.
Another rule going into effect at the same time will limit the distance between players lining up for a full-speed tackling drills to 3 yards.