Baseball players have long been given a "pitch count," a number of pitches they are allowed to throw before they must rest their arms and shoulders. Now researchers are saying that young athletes who participate in contact sports, chiefly football, should have a similar "hit count" to minimize the number of slams and tackles--and concussions--their brains endure.
The adolescent football player's brain is rattled an average of 650 times per season. That's just an average. There are positions on the football field where the numbers approach 1,000 hits to the head. And while a small fraction of those hits actually lead to a diagnosable concussion, the concern is that sub-concussive damage - the menacing smaller blows that add up during practices and games - could be as bad, or worse, for the brain.
With those sobering stats in mind, the Sports Legacy Institute [SLI] Friday called for the adoption of a "Hit Count" - similar to the "Pitch Count" system used in baseball - for youth athletes participating in contact sports.
"In baseball you have a pitch count because research showed that the more times you threw in a day or during the season, the more risk that you would wear out the elbow," said Chris Nowinski, president and CEO of the SLI, a sports research advocacy group. "Trauma to the head can wear out the brain. So if you're going to limit trauma for elbows, then you should also limit it for the brain."
The idea behind the hit count may sound simple, but implementation could pose a challenge. The idea of changing any sport, especially football, is bound to have detractors. But resistance to rule changes at the NFL level gradually waned, and Nowinski hopes that the same might happen at the youth level.
"You've got the toughest men in the room [NFL players] saying there is no such thing as a tough brain," said Nowinski. "If the NFL is willing to do that, then we should do that for kids as well."
Image: Kid in football gear, via Shutterstock