Safety first

Largest youth football league in Texas tackles head injuries with new program

Largest football youth league in Texas tackles injuries head on

SA youth football
The TYFA safety plan mandates the use of soft protective headgear in flag football games. Photo courtesy of TYFA

As the danger of head injuries continues to be spotlighted in the news, the safety of football — especially that of its youngest players — is increasingly being questioned. Now Texas’ largest youth football league is taking steps to protect its participants by introducing a new safety initiative.

On March 16, the San Antonio-based Texas Youth Football Association announced it is enacting an incremental plan to help reduce potentially damaging contact. Although there is conflicting research on the cause of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease sometimes found in athletes, a comprehensive Boston University study found those who participated in youth tackle football were more likely to later develop emotional and behavioral problems associated with CTE.

Working in conjunction with soft shell athletic headgear manufacturer Gamebreaker, the TYFA roadmap was developed in part by looking to the safety practices at the NFL and NCAA. “We felt that by eliminating equipment from the majority of practices, they would have the best chance to reduce the aggregate amount of contact across a season which we believe will reduce injuries,” Gamebreaker CEO Mike Juels said in the release.

The initiative, which took effect on March 10, is part of a three-year process. On year one, all TYFA flag football teams will be required to wear Gamebreaker headgear during both practice and game play. TYFA hopes that the mandate will condition youngsters to continually use protective headgear as they progress to tackle age groups.

The second year will require all TYFA coaches to limit contact practice to two per week, regardless of the age group. That will rev up to the year three goal which will limit padded contact practice in the junior and senior age groups to only once per week.

In addition to the reduction of contact, TYFA will be educating members on ways to limit injuries and more quickly recognize and address concussions. Harsher punishments will also be enacted for players involved in dangerous plays or are incorrectly wearing the safety equipment.

The safety plan could attract new participants to the league. According to the New York Times, youth football participation has been in decline in recent years due to increasing concerns over safety issues.