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Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2019 Nov;51(11):2366-2374. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000002046.

Data-informed Intervention Improves Football Technique and Reduces Head Impacts.

Author information

Centre for Neuroscience Studies, Queen's University, Kingston, ON, CANADA.
School of Applied Child Psychology, McGill Connections Lab, Montréal, QC, CANADA.
Toronto, ON, CANADA.
Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related TBI Research Center, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC.
Department of Surgery, Queen's University, Kingston, ON, CANADA.



Although sport participation is a key contributor to the physical and mental health of children and youth, exposure to subconcussive head impacts in football has raised concerns about safety for athletes.


To demonstrate the efficacy of incorporating targeted football drills into a team's practice routine with the goal of improving players' technique and reduce exposure to subconcussive head impacts.


Seventy high school football players (age, 16.4 ± 1.1 yr) were tested PRE season using a sport-specific functional assessment. Results from the testing were used to inform the design of a prepractice intervention aimed at improving tackling and blocking techniques while reducing exposure to head impacts. The assessment included drills which evaluated the players' ability to safely tackle, and block while simulating game-like situations. Testing was repeated at MID season (internal control) without an intervention, and again at POST season (experimental), after introduction of the prepractice intervention between these timepoints, administered twice weekly. All testing sessions were recorded, and subsequently reviewed by trained graders based on selected criteria defined by football coaches. A subset of 19 participants wore in-helmet accelerometers to assess the effectiveness of the intervention in decreasing head impacts during practice.


Significant improvements in blocking and tackling techniques were observed after the introduction of the intervention (P < 0.0001). Participating athletes also showed better techniques when evaluated in new game-like situations, postseason, providing evidence for proper acquisition and generalizability of these safer habits. Finally, frequency of head impacts (>15g) per practice was significantly reduced by ~30% after 1 month of training.


Our results suggest that data-informed methods can be used to improve coaching practices and promote safer play, which can have a positive public health impact moving forward.

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