Because JJ&W has counseled the Brain Injury Association of NH for a number of years, we’ve gotten very familiar with the concussion issue – it has certainly been in the spotlight with triggering events like the death of Junior Seau of the San Diego Chargers and more recently, the movie “Concussion”.
Of course, any social problem involving behavior change is of interest to us…but I was particularly fascinated by the approach UNH Kinesiology Professor Erik Swartz took with “Helmetless Tackling Training” or HUTT, pilot-tested on the UNH football team. Swartz, using the “Head Health Challenge II” research grant funded by the NFL, Under Armour and General Electric, worked with the UNH football coaching staff to incorporate a tackling drill, with half of the players wearing helmet… the other half, not.
Head impact sensors worn by all the players collected data on the impacts. The question: would removing helmets cause players to adjust their tackling technique and build muscle memory that would result in a safer tackling technique and fewer head injuries going forward?
The results from the 2014 football season: a decrease in head impacts of almost 30% among those who participated in the helmetless drills – in practices and games where helmets are worn. In the words of Schwartz: “this is the first study out there to really focus on changing behavior to mitigate risk rather than finding ways to accommodate it.”
Breakthrough thinking, and the next steps will be developing appropriate training for players at the high school level and below – those audiences, and their behaviors, need to be studied and carefully considered first.