Will Pop Warner Decision Lead To Sweeping Changes?

National programs take lead in protecting student athletes from on-field head injuries.

During the winter, I  The coverage centered on the death of a highschool football player in Eastern North Carolina. The Sanjay Gupta special wasvery thorough and challenged football leagues throughout the country toincrease their knowledge and implement changes in light of recently disclosed dangers in playing football.

Substantive change in sports rarely occurs voluntarily. That is, however, until someone is either severely injured or killed. At that time organizers get very involved.

They suddenly appear to be concerned about player safety.

Actually they are concerned about potential litigation. Parents who had
knowingly exposed their children to the danger often foolishly object to the rule changes fearing that the changes would impact their child's athletic career. I’m talking about 10 year olds.

As aprofessional baseball instructor I have participated in many attempts to increase safety in baseball. Most recently in the past decade (and it was an entire decade) many of us at the national level sought to place reasonable pitch count limits on Little League and youth baseball pitchers.

As a legal consultant, I provide services to numerous personal injury cases involving child abuse in sports. I am always astounded at the administrative and coaching attempts to rationalize unsafe play. In spite of a preponderance of scientific evidence, organizations resist change for fear of "extra administrative complexity" and diminished competition. But its all about the kids! I’m talking about 12 year olds.

State Level Resistance

Citing similar excuses, the Virginia High School League, which is responsible for athletic standards in Virginia’s public high schools, is resisting the implementation of contemporary safety standards for high school pitchers. Perhaps resisting any change they may in fact faintly wave at protecting pitchers and capitulate to outdated rules that Little League abandon many years ago. I’m talking about teenagers. Professional adults in minor league baseball have limited pitch counts.

Common Sense Action

After CNN's report, the collegiate Ivy League implemented changes for the safety of their football student athletes. Last week last week NBC Nightly News led with the story - sweeping changes occur in the manner in which youth football will be played.

Their report detailed that Pop Warner Football, the large national youth football association, instituted dramatic new changes in practice and training. Full equipment practices would be reduced by approximately 65 percent. Tackling would be reduced to a distance of no more than three feet away from the person being tackled, thereby reducing the number of potential collisions and the momentum of impact. Well done!

"It just makes sense I don't believe in the old school ideasof beating each other up during practice." - SLHS Coach Marvin Wooten

I placed calls to Reston's football community representatives. Reston Youth Football Association's president did not respond. However South Lakes High School Head Football Coach, Marvin  Wooten, responded immediately.

Coach Wooten's comments and attitude were extremely impressive.  I asked if he was aware of the recent reports. He responded that as a result of his personal research, he had already made plans to change the practice and training procedure at the high school prior to the Pop Warner announcement.

"It just makes sense. I don't believe in the old school ideas of beating each other up during practice, " Wooten said.

He went on to describe his agreement with recent research that reveals that the cumulative effect of sub-concussive, repetitive trauma to the brain happens more often in practice situations and has to date gone unnoticed.  Spontaneous concussions are more apparent and occur in actual football in games.

Coach Wooten, a veteran of 20 years of football experience through college, obviously is bringing common sense and contemporary safety training procedures to South Lakes High School. We sincerely hope that Reston's Youth Football program, as well as other high school and recreational football entities,  follow his leadership.

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Connie Hartke June 20, 2012 at 01:56 PM
Bravo to Coach Wooten! Reston Youth Football Association better step up also -- I have been very aware of football concussion injuries ever since listening to the wife of a Baltimore Colts player 4 years ago at a dementia seminar (http://baltimore.cbslocal.com/2011/07/07/baltimore-colt-legend-john-mackey%E2%80%99s-wife-speaks-on-his-legacy/). Signed, grandmother of a 12 year old who may be playing tackle this fall.
Mike June 20, 2012 at 04:08 PM
My son has been playing with Reston Youth Association for the past several years and the coaches and teams I have been a part of have always taught the proper way to tackle to limit injury and potential concussions. I have seen a two case over the years where kids on our team have received concussions and the coaches have always pulled the kid off the field and they didnt play or practice until cleared by their doctor. I know RYA works with Coach Wooten and his staff so lack of response by the President should not be viewed as ignoring the situation.
Connie Hartke June 24, 2012 at 07:24 PM
My guy loved tackle practice today. I love football, and look forward to watching his games. I educated him on what it can mean long term to have untreated concussions. We discussed how we have learned so much in the last 5 years and that his coaches take this seriously but that it is HIS responsibility to let his coach/parents know if he ever thinks he has one. The brain is a muscle and just like if you sprained a leg, it would need Rest (maybe not I C E) but definitely rest. He understands when it's explained like this. I explained that brain injury can cause dementia like his great-grandfather had - only it hits at around my age rather than late 80's and doesn't go so easy on a younger person. NOW he understands. I think it's important to be sure these young athletes really get it. He plays soccer and swims too - concussions can happen any where. A good conversation to have with any athlete.


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