Eliminating particular high-impact drills in youth football practices significantly reduces the risk of head injuries, according to a study published in theJournal of Neurosurgery on Tuesday.
Researchers at Virginia Tech identified one drill, called “King of the Circle,” that was the most dangerous for 34 Virginia football players ages 9-11 who were followed in the study. The tackling drill consists of a ball carrier rushing from the center of the circle at defenders at the perimeter of the circle.
“The is the first such study that examines specific drills,” study co-author Stefan Duma, professor and head of the department of biomedical engineering at Virginia Tech, told USA TODAY Sports. “Others have focused on practice times and the quantity of impacts absorbed in practice. This is the first that studied specific kinds of drills that causes the most problems, like King of the Circle.”
The drill was among the least utilized during the 55 practices, where head impacts were measured with helmet-mounted accelerometers. Yet, King of the Circle produced the highest magnitude and most frequent head impacts compared to other drills observed.
Pop Warner, the largest youth football program in the U.S., already put limits on contact in response the growing research that links tackle football to debilitating, life-altering brain injuries. USA Football, youth football’s national governing body, mandated a 30-minute limit on full-contact practices last year.