Study: Youth Football Players Sustain More Intense Hits As They Get Older

Jul 24, 2017

Biomedical researchers at Wake Forest School of Medicine have found that youth football players sustain more hits to the head as they get older. Those hits get a lot harder, too.

Mireille Kelley is a graduate student who contributed to the study. She helped measure head impacts of 97 youth football players divided into levels: age 11-and under, 12-and-under, and 13-and-under.

Data from helmet sensors showed much more intense hits in the 13-year-olds, especially during games.

“We're seeing that they're hitting a little bit harder and more frequently, even from one age and weight level to the next,” Kelley said. “And we are seeing the biggest differences in their head impact severity, and the number of impacts, in competition.”

This comes as concussions and head trauma are being heavily scrutinized in professional football.

“There are 2,000 NFL players. There's about 2,000 youth players for every single NFL player,” said Joel Stitzel, a biomedical engineering professor at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. “So the group about which you hear the most — the NFL — is a tiny, tiny minority of the total that's playing in the country.”

Stitzel said this data is important for making well-informed decisions about rules.

The research was published this summer in the Journal of Neurotrauma.