No concussion-related rule changes for FCFL

With summer practices for youth football beginning this month, board members of the Fairfield County Football League met recently to discuss recent rule changes aimed at reducing concussions and other head-related injuries.

Pop Warner Football, the country’s largest youth football organization, made headlines a few weeks ago when it became the first national program to limit contact in practices. Pop Warner coaches will no longer be allowed to run any tackle drills that require full speed, head-on blocking or tackling. The new stipulations also put restrictions on the amount of practice time, as contact drills will now be limited to 40 minutes per practice or one-third of total practice time.

But after reviewing Pop Warner’s rule changes, the FCFL, which includes Wilton and seven other Fairfield County towns, has decided not to implement similar rules.

Jim Coley, the president of the FCFL, and the rest of the board felt confident that the league — which is not affiliated with Pop Warner or any other national organization — already had more-than-sufficient rules and regulations in place to ensure the safety of its athletes. Coley pointed out that the FCFL was on the cutting edge of concussion prevention, stating that all FCFL coaches are invited to take an advanced concussion course at the Sports Legacy Institute (SLI) in Boston, and are required to complete an online concussion certification.

SLI was founded in 2007 by Christopher Nowinski and Dr. Robert Cantu, following the medical field’s concern that brain trauma in sports had become a public health crisis. Nowinski, a former Harvard football player and wrestler, appeared on ESPN’s show Outside the Lines in 2007 to discuss his work and has been at the forefront of concussion research for some time.

Coley said that every FCFL coach is versed on the dangers of concussions, as well as how to identify when an athlete may have sustained one.

“It has become more about awareness for the coaches and parents,” he said. “Our coaches know what to do if they expect that a kid is concussed. They notify the parent and get them to a doctor.” Coley also said that all FCFL teams have special concussion-resistant helmets for their athletes.

In addition to the concussion training for coaches and the safety helmets for players, Coley stressed that the FCFL did not subject its players to the kind of practices that Pop Warner does.

“We practice less than them (Pop Warner),” Coley said. “We start in mid-August and practice 10 hours a week pre-season and six hours a week during the season.”

Coley said that what the FCFL and its coaches have been teaching for some time — and will continue to emphasize in the coming years — is sound tackling techniques. Many of the head injuries that occur in youth football are the result of bad tackling techniques, in which the player leads with his head instead of his shoulder.

“We stress teaching good tackling techniques and make sure kids are not afraid when they tackle,” said Coley. “When they are afraid they lower their head.

“It is naïve to eliminate all hitting in practice,” added Coley. “Repetition is needed to reinforce good technique.”

Coley does suggest that parents get baseline tests for their children before the latter start football.

“Baseline test them so that if something happens you are prepared and know if it’s a concussion,” he said.