Strategies for Preventing High School Football Injuries

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I started my love of sports when I was very young. At three years old, I played flag football for a local youth league. I was not shy and withdrawn like the other kids. I was outgoing and energetic. I don’t know if the other kids were embarrassed to play or they just didn’t understand the game, but the ball always came to me. I loved the attention from stealing a flag and scoring a touchdown. After flag football, I played every sport in every season—soccer, basketball, football, volleyball, and baseball. Every sport was the same—the ball always came to me.

I was not necessarily an aggressive player, but I was athletic and demanded a lot of play time because I knew I could get us the “win”. I know youth sports are supposed to be about learning and having fun, but, to me—and many of the coaches (even if they wouldn’t admit it)—it was always about winning. Because of this, I was constantly getting hurt. I was not about to sit on the sidelines so I played despite my injuries. I remember coaches always stressing the importance of drinking water and resting periodically, but they never talked about injuries and how to prevent them.

I had so many contusions and abrasions I lost count. By the end of my youth sports days with the YMCA and the city youth league, I had had an ankle sprain, a dislocated shoulder, a knee injury (which subsequently needed surgery), a mild concussion, a laceration that needed stitches, mild whiplash, and heat exhaustion. Looking back, there is so much more the coaches could have done to prevent, or at least minimize, some of the injuries I suffered.

In the summer before my freshman year of high school, I tried out for football. It was nothing like any of the sports I had experienced as a youth. The coaches were super vigilant about proper training and playing techniques for injury prevention. The coaches knew our medical histories and how to encourage safe and proper play, mentally and physically, despite some of the players’ medical conditions—asthma, diabetes, arthritis, heart disease and anemia. It was a grueling two months in summer heat for hours a day, yet no one suffered any injuries more severe than heat exhaustion and a couple of bruises and scrapes. That summer changed the course of my life. Instead of being a police officer, I decided to major in physical education and coach high school football.

Between my history of playing sports, coaching youth sports, interviewing coaches, taking PE Theory classes at Delta, and researching for this term paper, I have learned many strategies for preventing high school football injuries. This paper will examine the types of football injuries, injury statistics, and, most importantly, injury prevention.

Football is one of the top high school sports played nationwide. There are hundreds of youth playing football at any given time through all seasons all over the United States.

In the 2012-2013 school year, 14,048 U.S. high schools fielded teams to play 11-man per side American tackle football. The 1,088,158 athletes who played on these teams in the 2012-2013 school year made football the No. 1 participation sport in the nation’s high schools, according to the most recent data published by the National Federation of State High School Associations. (Jeffrey)

Football is the world’s most popular sport with millions of players in many countries. Because football is a hands-on, full-body contact, rough and tumble fast-paced sport, it can bring with it loads of injuries.

Sport carries with it the risk of injury and each sport has its own particular injury profile. Any increase in participation within a sport will be accompanied by an increase in the number of injuries. Any increase in injuries in a sport with the participation numbers like football will likely have a public health impact in terms of the burden on health care systems as well as time lost to education and productivity. (Kirkendall)

The following is a non-inclusive list of football injuries and/or ailments and a brief definition. (Google.com.)

  • Sprain/strain—a wrench of a ligament of an ankle or wrist so as to injure without fracture or dislocation
  • Fracture—the breaking of a bone, cartilage, or the like
  • Contusion (bruise)—an injury from a blow in which the tissue is injured but the skin is not broken
  • Overuse/overtraining—to use too much or too often
  • Delayed-onset muscle soreness (muscle fever)—muscle pain and weakness that starts up to a day after unfamiliar exercise, peaking up to 2 days later
  • Hip pointer—injury to the hip causing deep bruising and pain
  • Overheating—make or become too hot
  • Separation/dislocation—an injury where a joint is forced out of normal position
  • Blister—skin covered by a raised, fluid-filled bubble
  • Turf toe—sprain of ligaments around the big toe joint
  • Torn rotator cuff—a tear in the tissues connecting muscle to bone around the shoulder joint
  • ACL—a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the knee
  • Muscle cramp—a painful, involuntary contraction of a muscle or muscles, typically caused by fatigue or strain
  • Laceration—a rough jagged tear
  • Whiplash—injury caused by a severe jerk to the head
  • Burner/stinger of the neck—injury to the nerves of the neck that cause burning or stinging
  • Abrasion (scrape)—the process of scraping or wearing away
  • Back pain—physical discomfort occurring anywhere on the spine or back ranging from mild to disabling
  • Herniated disk—a condition which refers to a problem with a rubbery disk between the spinal bones
  • Concussion—temporary unconsciousness caused by a blow to the head
  • Second Impact Syndrome—when is a player suffers two concussions close enough together that the first has not had time to heal
  • Spinal cord/neck injury—trauma or injury to the spinal cord and/or neck
  • Sudden cardiac arrest—sudden, unexpected loss of heart function, breathing, and consciousness
  • Traumatic brain injury—an injury to the brain caused by external physical force that may produce a diminished or altered state of consciousness

Between 2001 and 2005, U.S. males of all ages made an estimated 1,060,823 emergency room visits with football-related injuries, according to an analysis of data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System-All Injury Program performed by the Injury Prevention Center at Rhode Island Hospital. (Weinblatt)

In 2012 alone, over 460,000 patients were treated for football-related injuries in emergency rooms across the U.S. (Franks)

There will always be injuries in high school football, but coaches, parents and support staff (schools, athletic programs, athletic trainers and medical personnel) can and should take important steps to ensure the safety of their players. Some strategies for injury prevention are: hydrate; stay active year-round; complete a pre-season health and wellness evaluation; participate in strength training; warm up and stretch; cool down and stretch; wear proper fitting equipment; use prophylactic or supportive taping/padding; take performance-enhancing and social drugs out of the game; learn proper tackling techniques; follow the rules of the game; and always prepare for injuries.


Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate. It’s the one thing I learned from every coach in every sport I played. It was also the first thing all the coaches that I interviewed told me was important in preventing injuries. The best way to prevent heat exhaustion and heat stroke is to hydrate frequently so that you don’t end up in the emergency room. If a player is dehydrated, they will not play as well because the body is not working to its highest potential. The body cannot cool itself through sweat if there’s not enough fluids in the body. Muscle cramps are an early sign that your body is too hot, and you are not drinking enough water. If a player starts cramping, they need to step off the field to cool off and drink fluids. Ideally, water is best, but a sports drink, like Gatorade or PowerAde will work too. Once they feel better they can return to the field.

The earliest symptoms are painful cramping of major muscle groups. However, if not treated with body cooling and fluid replacement, this can progress to heat exhaustion and heat stroke — which can even result in death. It is important for football players to be aware of the need for fluid replacement and to inform medical staff of symptoms of heat injury. (Levine)

During summer football, coach would tell us to drink 24 ounces of water and/or Gatorade about two hours before we came to practice. We would then drink water immediately before we started practice and frequently—every 30 minutes or so—thereafter while we were on the field.

A loss of 1% of your body weight through dehydration makes your heart beat an extra 3-5 beats per minute compared to a hydrated state. That’s about 1.5 lbs. for a 150 lb. individual. A loss of 3% or more can impair your performance and can be dangerous. (Christy)

Stay Active Year-round

Per Coach Huber, football players sometimes make the mistake of not staying active during the off-season. They should always play a sport, any sport, that keeps them in good physical condition and ready to begin practice at the start of football season. Coach Davis added that playing any sport that works the whole body—wrestling, boxing or rowing—is the best option for staying in shape off-season. Per Coach Murray, football players should have a balanced fitness program that includes aerobic exercise—like running, swimming or spinning—strength training, and weight lifting. He also said there should be no gap in workouts. Players need to stay in shape year-round, be flexible and be ready for the football season. All coaches stressed the importance of communicating with all school personnel if their health or wellness changed off-season.

Pre-season Health and Wellness Evaluation

During the 2010-2011 academic year, more than 7.6 million high school students participated in organized interscholastic sports, compared with 7.1 million in 2005-2006. For nearly 40 years, the Pre-participation Physician Examination (PPE) screening has been routinely used to identify conditions that put athletes at risk. (NATA)

I remember when I signed up for football, I was worried that my history of asthma would disqualify me from the sport. Instead, the coaches worked around my condition so I was able to play. They made sure I had my inhaler and that I did not push myself too hard. The PPE, also known as a medical history/physical giving my school authorization to play football without liability, was a record of my physical and mental health. The record looked at my cardiovascular health, my neurological health, and my orthopedic health. I had a physical exam and nutritional assessment done at my doctor’s office. The report also listed my medications—an inhaler, allergy medicine and iron pills (for anemia).

A general physical examination is recommended. The screening should include a check of vital signs (e.g. height, weight and blood pressure; visual acuity, cardiovascular/pulmonary, abdominal, neurologic and general medical and musculoskeletal examinations). Although another provider may record the initial vital signs for efficiency, the data should always be reviewed by the physician. Further examination should be based on potential concerns uncovered during the history. (NATA)

Coach Davis stated that the physical exam was important, but he felt that mental health was equally important. Seventy percent of his players are foster youth. To them, football is an outlet. He needs to be a mentor, not only a coach, to all his players. He pushes his players to excel. He wants to ensure they do not become a product of their environment. They all know they can talk to him about anything. Coach Davis also stressed the importance of proper nutrition by giving them meal plans to follow.

Participate in Strength Training

My friend, Zachary, is studying to be a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). He trains athletes to improve their athletic performance. He customizes strength training and conditioning programs and teaches nutrition and injury prevention. Strength training can be done using various types of resistance, with or without equipment. Zachary said his training sessions increase a client’s muscle mass while strengthening muscles, tendons, bones and ligaments. This results in a stronger, more flexible body for any sport. If he thinks he cannot effectively train a client, he will refer them to another professional trainer or fitness specialist.

Coach Murray and Coach Goedhart both stated that strength training keeps the body in proper alignment and protects the bones and muscles. The ligaments become more flexible and absorb shock better. Coach Murry said core work, full body movements, swimming, running, squats and lunges, cardio, yoga, ballet, and dance are perfect options for training a body to perform at its best.

Cite this paper

Strategies for Preventing High School Football Injuries. (2021, Jul 23). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/strategies-for-preventing-high-school-football-injuries/

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