Subconcussive Head Impacts and Neurocognitive Function Over 3 Seasons of Youth Football

J Child Neurol. 2021 Aug;36(9):768-775. doi: 10.1177/08830738211004490. Epub 2021 Apr 9.


Objective: To determine the association between repetitive subconcussive head impacts and neurobehavioral outcomes in youth tackle football players.

Methods: Using helmet-based sensors, we measured head impacts for 3 consecutive seasons of play in 29 male players age 9-11. Cumulative impact g's were calculated. Players completed a battery of outcome measures before and after each season, including neuropsychological testing, vestibular-ocular sensitivity, and self- and parent-reported measures of symptoms and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Results: Average cumulative impact over 3 seasons was 13 900g. High-intensity hits predicted worse change for self-reported social adjustment (P = .001). Cumulative impact did not predict change in any of the outcome measures. History of ADHD, anxiety, and depression predicted worse change for self-reported symptoms and social adjustment, independent of head impacts. When players were stratified into 3 groups based on cumulative impact across all 3 seasons, differences in outcome measures existed prior to the start of the first season. These differences did not further increase over the course of the 3 seasons.

Conclusion: Over 3 consecutive seasons of youth tackle football, we found no association between cumulative head impacts and neurobehavioral outcomes. Larger sample sizes and longer follow-up times would further assist in characterizing this relationship.

Keywords: cognition; concussion; contact sports; neurobehavioral; neuropsychological.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / classification*
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / complications
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / epidemiology
  • Football / injuries*
  • Football / physiology
  • Head Protective Devices / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Michigan
  • Neurocognitive Disorders / epidemiology
  • Neurocognitive Disorders / etiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests / statistics & numerical data
  • Prospective Studies
  • Youth Sports / injuries
  • Youth Sports / physiology