Comparison of Indiana High School Football Injury Rates by Inclusion of the USA Football "Heads Up Football" Player Safety Coach

Orthop J Sports Med. 2016 May 19;4(5):2325967116648441. doi: 10.1177/2325967116648441. eCollection 2016 May.


Background: In Indiana, high school football coaches are required to complete a coaching education course with material related to concussion awareness, equipment fitting, heat emergency preparedness, and proper technique. Some high schools have also opted to implement a player safety coach (PSC). The PSC, an integral component of USA Football's Heads Up Football (HUF) program, is a coach whose primary responsibility is to ensure that other coaches are implementing proper tackling and blocking techniques alongside other components of the HUF program.

Purpose: To compare injury rates in Indiana high school football teams by their usage of a PSC or online coaching education only.

Study design: Cohort study; Level of evidence, 2.

Methods: Athletic trainers (ATs) evaluated and tracked injuries at each practice and game during the 2015 high school football season. Players were drawn from 6 teams in Indiana. The PSC group, which used the PSC component, was comprised of 204 players from 3 teams. The "education only" group (EDU), which utilized coaching education only, was composed of 186 players from 3 teams. Injury rates and injury rate ratios (IRRs) were reported with 95% confidence intervals (CIs).

Results: During 25,938 athlete-exposures (AEs), a total of 149 injuries were reported, of which 54 (36.2%) and 95 (63.8%) originated from the PSC and EDU groups, respectively. The practice injury rate was lower in the PSC group than the EDU group (2.99 vs 4.83/1000 AEs; IRR, 0.62; 95% CI, 0.40-0.95). The game injury rate was also lower in the PSC group than the EDU group (11.37 vs 26.37/1000 AEs; IRR, 0.43; 95% CI, 0.25-0.74). When restricted to concussions only, the rate was lower in the PSC group (0.09 vs 0.73/1000 AEs; IRR, 0.12; 95% CI, 0.01-0.94), although only 1 concussion was reported in the PSC group. No differences were found in game concussion rates (0.60 vs 4.39/1000 AEs; IRR, 0.14; 95% CI, 0.02-1.11).

Conclusion: Findings support the PSC as an effective method of injury mitigation in high school football. Future research should seek to replicate this study using larger samples from additional states.

Keywords: epidemiology; pediatrics; prevention.