Risk Management in American Football

Any sport carries a risk of injury. Team sports tend to increase that risk. Team sports that involve physical contact between players increases that risk again. Certain sports that use particular types of physical contact that must be trained for and performed with some level of understanding and technical ability, increase the risk further.

Kitted (full-contact) American Football falls into that last type of sport.

A problem with perceptions of American Football by UK youngsters seems to be that because many will only be familiar with the NFL version of American Football, there seems to be a lack of real understanding about the extraordinary athleticism, technique and knowledge that is required to play the game at the highest level and make it look so easy! American football is technically difficult and physically challenging. Unfortunately, it seems that many young people may be attracted by the ‘big hits’ and may incorrectly assume it is the ‘pads’ that protect the players. In truth, it is their level of physical fitness that protects them from impacts of around 1000lb+ or blocking forces that is equivalent to being in a 30mph car crash! Watch the ‘Sport Science’ video on YouTube examining the Ray Lewis ‘bull-rush’!

For teachers and students, the message is simple and clear: you should take your time, learn correct fundamental techniques and wear mandatory equipment. Gradual exposure to tackling over a long period of time is highly recommended. American Football tackling is not the same as ‘rugby tackling in pads’ – the tackles in American Football are banned in rugby. That should be a significant enough warning about going too hard and too fast, too soon in training. Everyone involved in a team or programme should watch the NATA ‘Heads-up’ video more than once and preferably once every six months as salutary reminder of what can happen when things go wrong and how to minimise the risks. American football is such a rich and exciting game in itself, that to focus on the ’big hits’ alone, is akin to watching F1 just to see the crashes!