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See What You Hit ... Almost Always Misunderstood
By Jon Heck, MS, ATC 9/07
"See What You Hit" is a phrase that had good intentions. It came along to help eliminate head-down contact and serious cervical spine injuries. Unfortunately, the often- used phrase is almost always misunderstood by coaches, players and lots and lots of others. Most interpret this phrase to mean "initiate contact your face mask." And it's easy to understand why, the phrase can easily lead you in that direction. It's to the point where I often wonder if it's done more harm than good. I do not use the phrase when I'm talking about contact in football.

It was developed to help teach players to approach contact with their head-up. It was never intended to be an ally for coaches to teach their players to initiate contact with their helmet in tackling, blocking or any other type of contact. In fact it was and remains a rule violation to initiate contact with the face mask (ie, head-up) in high school and college football. The idea is to approach contact with the head-up and then to make contact with the shoulder while keeping the neck in extension. A more precise and accurate phrase is "See What You're About to Hit". Or even better "See What You're About to Hit With Your Shoulder". But the objective is never to literally "See What You Hit" by initiating contact with your face mask.

Leading with the helmet will lead to trouble, sooner or later.

This is a direct quote from the 2007 High School Football Rule Book, and it's been in every Rule Book as far back as I can remember. "... the intent to make contact 'face up' is no guarantee that the position can be maintained at the moment of impact. Consequently, the teaching of blocking/tackling techniques which keep the helmeted head from receiving the brunt of the impact are now required by rule and coaching ethics ..."

The problem with teaching players to initiate contact with the face mask is two fold. First anytime an athlete initiates contact with the head he increases the risk of concussion and closed head injuries. Obviously, not a good thing. But the biggest risk is that the players will not execute the face first contact as intended and drop their head at the last instant. And when this happens it puts the athlete in the head-down position and at risk of axial loading and cervical spine fracture. And remember, it is instinctive for players to drop their head to protect their eyes and face at contact. It is this exact problem that is credited with the highest incidence of catastrophic neck injuries in the early 1970's ... teaching athletes to initiate contact with their "face in the numbers" and the athletes dropping their head's at contact.

So I would like to see the phrase 'exit stage left'. It's misinterpretation remains a reason coaches and players still believe it's OK to initiate contact with the helmet. It should be replaced with "When the shoulder goes down, the head comes up" or "Whenever you lower your shoulder, raise your head." None of the these are as short and sweet, but they're more accurate. And there is always "See what you're about to hit with your shoulder", it won't win any advertising campains but it will help players understand things a bit better.