•Catastrophic cervical spine injuries are not freak accidents. These
are preventable injuries with an identified cause, head-down
contact with the shoulder while keeping the head up should
be the goal of every collision. The
game can be played as aggressively with this technique with
much less risk of serious injury.
•This contact method decreases the risk of cervical
spine fracture and concussion.
•It is not natural for a player to keep his head up at
contact. It's actually instinctive for players to
drop the head at contact to
and face. Shoulder contact with the head-up must be learned.
To be learned it must be practiced extensively. It requires
much more than telling players to “keep
their head up” and to “make contact with their
•Unintentional head-down contact is dropping of the head
just before contact. Spearing is the intentional use of
head-down contact. Both may result in paralysis.
•The primary purpose of the helmet-contact
penalties is to protect the
athlete making the hit from
•Catastrophic neck injuries caused by axial loading/head-down
contact are neither caused nor prevented by players' standard
Specifics for Coaches
•Every coaching staff should aim at keeping head-down contact
by their team to 5 or less per game. Estimates have
this number at about 20 per team in a game.
•Although defensive backs tackling are at the greatest
risk of catastrophic neck injuries, coaches need to teach
technique for all types of collisions. This includes contact
by ball-carriers, blockers, and special team’s players.
•Design drills that focus on shoulder contact
with the head up for all positional players and types of
Run them regularly.
•Typically football programs teach correct contact to tacklers
before the season begins. This must continue but include
the other positional players. In addition, specific emphasis
should placed on this again 3 more times spaced throughout
•Use the phrase “When the shoulder goes
down, the head comes up” as a repetitive teaching point.
•Do not instruct ball carriers to “lower
their heads” to break tackles. Instruct
them to “lower their shoulders.”
•Do not teach players to initiate contact with their
face mask. This is a rule violation and against current Coaching
Ethics. More importantly, this places players at risk of
paralysis if they accidentally drop their head at contact.
•Do not teach defensive players to put their helmet
on the ball when tackling. This is a rules violation as
it is teaching athletes to initiate contact with their
•The phrase “See What You Hit” does
NOT mean initiate contact with the face mask. It is intended
to teach players to keep their head up as they approach
contact. A more precise phrase is “See What You’re
About to Hit.”
•Accept helmet-contact penalties as an officials attempt
to protect your athlete from catastrophic injury.
•Players must know, understand and appreciate the risks of
football, whether intentional or accidental.
•Formal classroom educational sessions should be held twice per season, directed
by the medical staff.
contact begins and repeated at the midpoint of the season.
be mandatory for all players to view the DVD “Head’s
Up: Minimizing the risk of catastrophic head and neck in
football,” (or similar video) as part of these educational
NFHS and the NCAA need to adapt their helmet contact rules
head-down contact will be penalized regularly. (As of 2008 adaptations to the
rules are excellent)
•There is no way to distinguish between head-down hits that result in paralysis
from those that don't. So all head-down contact has to be penalized.
current rate of enforcement of the existing helmet contact
penalties needs to be drastically improved to serve as
a deterrent to players and to provide coaches feedback
on helmet-contact on a regular basis.
(The rationale for all of these recommendations can be
found in these articles:)