“The concept of practicing drills tackling and blocking without a
helmet on is novel to the sport of American football,” said lead
author Erik E. Swartz of the University of New Hampshire.
“I played rugby for a number of years and we don’t wear helmets, of
course, in rugby,” Swartz told Reuters Health by phone. “So you
don’t lead with your head.”
Football players who are used to doing everything with their helmets
on may feel they are protected, and be more comfortable leading with
their heads when tackling, he said. Taking away the helmets even
briefly could take away that false sense of security.
The long-lasting dangers of concussions have become a hot-button
topic both for professional athletes and for parents and coaches of
Peter Landesman, director of football head trauma film "Concussion"
that premiered on Christmas Day, told Reuters last week that
American football may be in the early stages of "a seismic shift" as
parents are dissuaded from letting their children play football amid
Swartz and his coauthors divided 50 NCAA Division 1 football players
at the University of New Hampshire into two groups. Half did
five-minute tackling drills without their helmets and shoulder pads
as part of the Helmetless Tackling Training (HuTT) program twice a
week during preseason practices and once a week during the three
The other 25 players continued with noncontact drills and their
usual routine, as reported in the Journal of Athletic Training.
Head impact sensors on the skin and helmets of the players showed
that those who did the helmetless drills had 30 percent fewer head
impacts per practice and game than the comparison group.
In the helmetless tackling group, head impacts per practice or game
fell from almost 14 in the preseason period to 10 at the end of the
season. At the end of the season, players in the comparison group
were still having more than 14 head impacts per game or practice.
“To get it on the first try within the first study was very, very
exciting and encouraging,” Swartz said.
Division 1 college football players are elite athletes. They seem to
have made adjustments in their play with only one or two helmetless
drills per week, but the same approach may not be as effective for
other levels of play, he said.
[to top of second column]
“Eventually what we hope is to develop a program on any level of
play, high school, college or pro, of a practice technique without
the helmet,” in addition to doing drills with the equipment on, he
For now, it’s too soon for coaches to try to implement this system
“I wouldn’t want people to figure it out on their own, just because
of the complexity,” Swartz said.
“We’re not ready to do any kind of widespread implementation,” he
With only 50 college players in these reported results, there were
too few participants to look at actual injuries, but that’s
something Swartz and his colleagues hope to do in the future with
larger studies of high school and college players, he said.
Up to now, most head injury prevention strategies have focused on
designing better helmets that minimize concussion risk, he said.
“I’m not saying that having a better helmet is something we
shouldn’t do, but it’s only going to further contribute to this
false sense of security,” Swartz said.
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1JchB1p The Journal of Athletic Training,
online December 10, 2015.
(Corrects spelling of "Erik" in story's second paragraph.)
[© 2015 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2015 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.