Pop Warner allowing fewer hits in practice

June 13, 2012 (CHICAGO)

The youth organization said it is limiting contact in practice to try and make the game safer for young players starting this year.

It said coaches must limit contact to no more than one-third of their practice time. It is also banning full-speed, head-on blocking or tackling drills in which players line up more than 3 yards apart. The organization says coaches can have full-speed drills where players approach each other at an angle but "not straight ahead into each other." It also says there should be no head-to-head contact.

The rule changes announced Tuesday were developed by Pop Warner's medical advisory board, which met in Chicago Wednesday, as part of its effort to reduce the risk of concussions.

"Most head contact occurs in practice," said Dr. Julian Bailes, chairman of the Pop Warner medical advisory board who practices at Northshore Neurological Institute. "We know that we can eliminate 60-plus percent of impacts to the brain."

Pop Warner said it is the "first youth sports organization to limit contact in practice." The organization has about 120 teams across Chicagoland. These rules are going to apply to all of their 2,500 players.

"It's going to be a lot safer and again, it's teaching them correctly how to hit, and it will go through all the levels and eventually everyone will know how to hit safely," said Matt Del Giudice, Pop Warner coach.

Del Giudice coaches his younger son's Pop Warner team in Hoffman Estates. His stepson Matt also played with Pop Warner and now plays high school football.

Despite suffering a concussion freshman year, Scott Hoffman, 16, is ambivalent about the new rules.

"I personally like the hitting aspect of football," he said. "It's part of the game, but limiting how much you're hitting and how far away you're hitting, I think that's a good rule."

Former Bears players will spend every day this week in Lincoln Park coaching over 100 kids, ages 6 to 14, on the fundamentals of football. And it's all non-contact. It's part of the new trend.

"We will get them how they move their body to make a tackle, but making the tackle without knowing how to tackle," said Mickey Pruitt, former Bear linebacker.

The long-term health effects of repeated blows to the head have become a major issue for the NFL, which is being sued by more than 2,000 retirees, and the concern has been trickling down to the lower levels of the games.

Some parents have voiced worry about letting their children play football, and the National Sporting Goods Association and the National Federation of State High School Associations have each recorded very slight declines in participation in recent years -- though doctors are reluctant to declare the changes a trend just yet.

"We have been very vocal on this issue over the past two years because the health and safety of our young players is always our number one priority," said Pop Warner executive director Jon Butler said. "By instituting these new rules and providing our coaches with proper tackling training and education in concussion awareness and prevention, we aim to equip our members with the tools they need to safely participate in the game they love."

More than 400,000 children in 43 states along with Scotland, Germany, Russia, Japan and Mexico participate in Pop Warner Little Scholars' football, cheerleading and dance programs.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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