Mathematica to Conduct Youth Football Concussion Study for CDC

Evaluation Aims to Improve Player Safety
Sep 14, 2016

CDC tackling study image


Mathematica Policy Research will study head impacts and concussions in youth football, one of the most pressing health concerns in youth sports and an area in which scientific evidence is lacking, under a new contract with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The goal of the study is to produce evidence that will help parents, coaches, sports leagues, and policymakers make informed decisions about participation, rules, and regulations in youth football.

With more than 1 million children and adolescents participating in football nationwide, concerns about concussions and other serious brain injuries have increased dramatically in recent years. Using innovative technology, Mathematica’s rigorous evaluation will measure head impacts and concussion rates in more than 40 teams in a youth football league. Researchers will examine variations by tackling technique, player age, level of play, and contact (tackle) versus non-contact (flag football) programs. They also will examine an alternative technique known as shoulder-style tackling to assess its potential for reducing head impacts and the risk of concussions.

The 27-month project will:

  • Gather data on the cumulative number of head impacts, the force of impacts, and reported concussions youth football players incur over the course of a football season.
  • Assess how head impacts and reported concussions vary in tackle and flag football programs, and for players of different skill levels and ages.
  • Investigate the effect of shoulder-style tackling on head impacts incurred over the course of a football season and whether the effect differs by player age and skill level.
  • Analyze parents’ and coaches’ perceptions of the risks and benefits of alternative rules, practices, policies, and player/coaching behaviors on potential for player injury.
  • Examine the experiences of coaches who implement shoulder-style tackling.

Research has shown that tackling is responsible for almost two-thirds of concussions among young football players. A report from the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends enforcing rules that ban illegal contact, expanding non-contact football programs, and limiting the number of hits to the head. But the report also notes that limited research is available to determine at what age to introduce tackling and whether removing tackling from youth football programs results in delayed skill development, which could put players at risk for tackling injuries in high school.

The new study, funded by the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, builds on Mathematica’s smaller-scale studies of head impacts in youth sports, leveraging the firm’s expertise in conducting rigorous, innovative research that meets the highest standards of quality and objectivity. For nearly 50 years, Mathematica has worked with decision makers across the public and private sectors to produce evidence that helps improve societal well-being in areas from health to education to employment.

More information about the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control is available on its website.