Health-Safety,Concussion Articles,Press Box

International consensus reached to reduce contact in youth sports with focus on teaching proper head-safe skills

Steve Alic, Director of Communications Tue, 11/06/2012 - 3:05pm


More than 100 medical experts from around the world gathered Nov. 1-2 in Zurich, Switzerland, for the fourth Consensus Conference on Concussion in Sport, an international summit conducted every four years.

Among the topics discussed were how to best advance youth athlete safety and whether a specific age should be instituted on when to begin practicing specific skills such as heading in soccer and tackling in football.

These and other topics were addressed by a panel of six experts spanning three continents. The panel was co-moderated by DR. STANLEY HERRING and DR. ROBERT CANTU, both of the United States.




Dr. Mark Aubrey


Chief Medical Officer, International Ice Hockey Federation

Dr. Jiri Dvorak


Chief Medical Officer, Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA)

Dr. Richard Ellenbogen

United States

Co-Chair, National Football League Head, Neck and Spine Committee

Dr. Paul McCrory


Medical Officer, Australian Football League

Dr. Margot Putukian

United States

Chair, US Lacrosse Sports Science and Safety Committee

Dr. Martin Raftery


Chief Medical Officer, International Rugby Board


The panel was unanimous on the following points in order to vigilantly advance athlete safety and behavior modification:

  • Teach youth athletes the proper techniques and fundamentals of their respective sports;
  • Teach coaches, parents and youth athletes effective concussion recognition and response;
  • Reduce and limit unnecessary contact in youth sports;
  • Maximize rule enforcement of unsafe player behavior that puts the head at risk for injury;
  • Make no alterations at present to specific ages already put forth by sports organizations for youth athletes to begin practicing skills such as heading in soccer, tackling in football, and body checking in ice hockey; and
  • Continue research to learn the types and magnitudes of head forces for specific ages and sports to better understand the threshold of concussion.

“The Zurich panelists agreed that sports have made advancements in youth athlete player safety and that more work needs to be done,” said Herring, the director of sports spine and orthopedic health at University of Washington Medicine and a leading progenitor of Washington state’s landmark Zackery Lystedt Law in 2009. Herring also serves on USA Football’s Football and Wellness Committee.

“In football, it is essential to introduce proper tackling techniques early in a player’s career and to avoid unnecessary head contact,” Herring added. “This is achieved through USA Football’s Heads Up Football program, which is worthy of strong endorsement by experts in medicine and the youth football community.”

USA Football’s Heads Up Football program, introduced this summer, corresponds to the Zurich panel’s recommendations in the following ways:

Teaching fundamentals

·      All coaches in a youth football program are trained to teach the game’s fundamentals by completing USA Football’s third-party accredited online coaching course.

·      Leagues appoint a Player Safety Coach, trained by USA Football, to directly assess their coaches’ knowledge and to reinforce instructional training throughout the season.

Concussion recognition

·      Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concussion protocols and recognition are learned through USA Football’s accredited online coaching course.

·      Player Safety Coaches directly reinforce concussion-related protocols throughout the season and conduct player safety clinics for leagues’ youth athletes and their parents. 

Reducing contact

·      USA Football’s Heads Up Tackling technique, endorsed by leading medical experts and football coaches, teaches athletes to keep their heads up at all times and out of the line of contact.

·      USA Football’s accredited online coaching course teaches coaches to implement drills through a progressive manner of contact called Levels of Contact to reduce contact and build player confidence.

Herring and other medical experts – including DR. GERARD A. GIOIA of Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and DR. KEVIN GUSKIEWICZ of the University of North Carolina, both of whom participated in the Zurich conference as experts in the field of head trauma – support how tackling is taught through USA Football’s Heads Up Football program. The technique, called Heads Up Tackling, is deemed by medical experts an important step in the right direction toward safer, better ways to teach the game’s fundamental skill at the youth level. Focused study of these tackling techniques is planned.

Heads Up Football aims to evolve the sport’s tackling instruction and terminology. Players taught tackling skills through Heads Up Football make contact in an ascending motion powered by legs and hips with an emphasis on keeping the head up at all times. Heads Up Football continues the sport’s evolution and encourages coaches to avoid tackling terminology such as “bite the ball,” which places a player’s head in the line of contact.

About USA Football: USA Football recommends national standards for America’s youth football community. As the sport's national governing body in the United States, USA Football hosts dozens of football training events annually offering education for coaches, skill development for players and resources for youth football league commissioners. The independent non-profit is the official youth football development partner of the NFL and its 32 teams as well as the Atlantic Coast Conference. USA Football manages U.S. national teams within the sport for international competition and awards $1 million annually in equipment grants to youth and high school football programs based on merit and need. USA Football is chaired by former NFL team executive Carl Peterson.