Differences in Head Impact Exposures Between Youth Tackle and Flag Football Games and Practices: Potential Implications for Prevention Strategies
Interventions designed to reduce the risk for head impacts and concussion in youth football have increased over the past decade; however, understanding of the role of regular game play on head impact exposure among youth tackle and flag football athletes is currently limited.
To explore head impact exposure among youth tackle and flag football athletes (age range, 6-14 years) during both practices and games.
Cohort study; Level of evidence, 2.
Using the Vector MouthGuard sensor, the authors collected head impact data from 524 tackle and flag youth football athletes over the course of a football season. Quantities of interest were estimated from regression models using Bayesian methods.
For impacts ≥10g, a tackle football athlete had an estimated 17.55 (95% CI, 10.78-28.96) times more head impacts per practice compared with a flag football athlete (6.85 [95% CI, 6.05-7.76] and 0.39 [95% CI, 0.24-0.62] head impacts, respectively). Additionally, a tackle football athlete had an estimated 19.48 (95% CI, 12.74-29.98) times more head impacts per game compared with a flag football athlete (13.59 [95% CI, 11.97-15.41] and 0.70 [95% CI, 0.46-1.05] head impacts, respectively). Among tackle football athletes, the estimated average impact rate was 6.51 (95% CI, 5.75-7.37) head impacts during a practice and 12.97 (95% CI, 11.36-14.73) impacts during a game, resulting in 2.00 (95% CI, 1.74-2.29) times more ≥10g head impacts in games versus practices. Tackle football athletes had 2.06 (95% CI, 1.80-2.34) times more high-magnitude head impacts (≥40g) during a game than during a practice. On average, flag football athletes experienced an estimated 0.37 (95% CI, 0.20-0.60) head impacts during a practice and 0.77 (95% CI, 0.53-1.06) impacts during a game, resulting in 2.06 (95% CI, 1.29-3.58) times more ≥10g head impacts in games versus practices. Because of model instability caused by a large number of zero impacts for flag football athletes, a comparison of high-magnitude head impacts is not reported for practices or games.
This study provides a characterization of the head impact exposure of practices and games among a large population of youth tackle and flag football athletes aged 6 to 14 years. These findings suggest that a greater focus on game-based interventions, such as fair play interventions and strict officiating, may be beneficial to reduce head impact exposures for youth football athletes.