Comparing Head Impacts in Youth Tackle and Flag Football
A CDC study published in Sports Health reports youth tackle football athletes ages 6 to 14 sustained 15 times more head impacts than flag football athletes during a practice or game and sustained 23 times more high-magnitude head impact (hard head impact).
Head impacts increase the risk for concussion and other serious head injuries.
Key findings from the study “Head impact exposures among youth tackle and flag American football athletesexternal icon” include:
- Youth tackle football athletes experienced a median of 378 head impacts per athlete during the season.
- Flag football athletes experienced a median of 8 eight head impacts per athlete during the season.
These findings suggest that non-contact or flag football programs may be a safer alternative for reducing head impacts and concussion risk for youth football athletes under age 14.
More Efforts Needed to Prevent Head Impacts During Youth Football Games
A second CDC studyexternal icon published in The American Journal of Sports Medicine reports youth tackle and flag football athletes sustained two times more head impacts during a game than during a practice.
Key findings from the study “Differences in head impact exposures between youth tackle and flag football games and practices: Potential implications for prevention strategiesexternal icon” include:
- Youth tackle football athletes had an estimated 18 times more head impacts per practice and 19 times more head impacts per game than flag football athletes.
- Youth tackle football athletes had an average rate of almost 7 head impacts during a practice and 13 impacts during a game, resulting in 2 times more ≥10g head impacts in games versus practices (g is a measurement of gravitational force equivalent).
- Youth flag football athletes had an average rate of 0.4 head impacts during a practice and 0.8 impacts during a game, resulting in 2 times more ≥10g head impacts in games versus practices.
- Youth tackle football athletes sustained 2 times more high magnitude head impacts (≥40g) in games vs practices.
These findings suggest a greater focus on game-based interventions, such as fair play interventions and strict officiating. In addition, the expansion of non-contact or flag football programs may be beneficial to reduce head impact exposures—especially for youth football athletes.
We All Play a Role in Protecting Youth from Concussion
- Looks for non-contact sports options, such as flag and touch football.
- Read about concussion safety and talk to their child about concussion.
- Make sure their child’s sports team has a concussion safety policy.
- Choose a sports program that enforces rules for safety and avoids drills and plays that increase the risk for head impacts.
- Talk to their athletes about concussion and teach ways to lower the chance for getting hits to the head.
- Avoid drills and plays that increase the risk for head impacts.
- Get informed about school or league concussion policies.
- Take a training on concussion.
Healthcare providers can:
- Identify athletes at greater risk for concussion during preseason exams and discuss non-contact sports options.
- Talk to athletes about concussion safety and strategies to lower the chance for this injury.
- Take a training on concussion.
Schools and sports programs can:
- Offer non-contact sports options, such as flag and touch football.
- Make an effort to have certified athletic trainers available at games and practices.
- Enforce rules for fair play, safety, and sportsmanship.
- Inform coaches and parents about school or league concussion policies and offer trainings.
- CDC’s HEADS UP initiative to improve prevention, recognition, and response to concussion and other serious brain injuries among youth.
- CDC’s Traumatic Brain Injury website featuring data, reports, and fact sheets.
- CDC’s Pediatric Mild TBI Guideline to help healthcare providers take action to improve the health of their patients.