Results of a Helmetless-Tackling Intervention to Decrease Head Impacts in
Football Players

Swartz EE, Broglio SP, Cook SB, Cantu RC,
Ferrara MS, Guskiewicz KM, Myers JL. J Athl Train. 2015; ahead of print

Take Home Message: Helmetless-tackling
training reduces head impacts in collegiate football players.

school and college football athletes can experience more than 1000 head impacts
in a single season. Multiple head impacts have been associated with brain
injuries such as concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. The
researchers performed a randomized clinical trial to determine if a
helmetless-tackling behavioral intervention could reduce the number of head
impacts among athletes in a National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I
football program. The authors enrolled 50 football players with 2 years of
eligibility in this 2-year (2014-2015 seasons) prospective randomized
controlled study. The athletes were stratified by position (offense versus
defense) and randomized into intervention (25 athletes) or control (25
athletes) groups. Prior to the first preseason practice the athletes received
an xPatch head impact sensor
and were fitted with a new Riddell Revolution Speed helmet. Before each football practice/game the xPatch was
affixed to the participant’s skin over the mastoid process. The authors
recorded participation in a game or practice as 1 athlete-exposure. The
athletes within the intervention group participated in a 5-minute drill without
helmets or shoulder pads. These drills involved multiple supervised repetition
of executing proper tackling into an upright pad or teammate holding a padded
shied at 50-75% effort. The athletes within the control group were separated from
the intervention group and performed a placebo drill, which consisted of
noncontact football skills. These drills occurred twice a week during the
preseason (3-weeks) and once a week within the competitive season (16 weeks).
Frequency, location, peak linear acceleration, rotational acceleration, and
duration of all head impacts at or above the threshold of 10g were recorded by
the xPatch. The authors presented in this paper the results from the first
season. The authors found that the helmetless-tackling intervention resulted in
athletes having 28% and 30% less head impacts and impacts per athlete-exposure by
the end of the season; respectively (intervention ~14 impacts per
athletic-exposure, control group ~10 impacts/exposure).

is a significant study because it demonstrates that within 1 season a new
helmetless-training technique can decrease head impacts by 28%. This suggests
that this novel 5-minute helmetless-tackling intervention can improve tackling
behavior and reduce head impacts during play. The authors suggest that
helmetless tackling may eliminate the false sense of security that a player may
feel while wearing a helmet. Practicing tackling techniques without the helmet
and pads may be counterintuitive; however, medical professionals should weigh
the risks to the benefits. Contact sports and repeated head impacts have been
associated with concussions and chronictraumatic encephalopathy; therefore, behavior modification with 5 minutes
of helmetless-tackling drills may be helpful to the athletes’ health
long-term.  Future research is necessary
to determine if helmetless-training programs are effective for different
performance levels (Divisions II & III, high school, youth). Furthermore,
it needs to be determined if these benefits will persist and how often these
skills need to be practiced to avoid a return to poor tackling behaviors. In
the meantime, football teams should consider this brief helmetless-tackling
training program as a possible option for their team.

Questions for Discussion:
Are you a proponent of the 5 minutes helmetless-tackling drills? Do you think
helmetless tackling will result in other benefits such as decreases in other

by: Jane McDevitt, PhD
by: Jeff Driban


Swartz EE, Broglio SP, Cook SB, Cantu RC, Ferrara MS, Guskiewicz KM, & Myers JL (2015). Early Results of a Helmetless-Tackling Intervention to Decrease Head Impacts in Football Players. Journal of Athletic Training PMID: 26651278