GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — West Michigan high school football coaches say they support new statewide rules that limit the amount of collision contact allowed during practices.
The Michigan High School Athletic Association issued changes this week that include restrictions aimed at reducing concussions.
The new rules limit full-contact practices to 30 minutes per week during the season; it used to be 90 minutes. Teams also must limit full-contact preseason practices to six hours per week. Previously, they were allowed to hold a full-contact practice every day during the preseason.
“The game of football has evolved from back when we were growing up where it’s like lay on your back, blow the whistle, get up and smack each other,” Don Fellows, Grand Rapids Christian’s head football coach, said Wednesday.
He told 24 Hour News 8 his coaching staff started cutting down collision contact years ago as more research surfaced about concussions.
“For us at Grand Rapids Christian, it (the new guidelines) won’t change anything because we have never tackled to the ground,” Fellows said.
Todd Kolster, the football coach at Grand Rapids Catholic High School, had a similar reaction.
“It really doesn’t change a whole lot because we’ve already been doing these types of things,” Kolster said.
He explained that most MHSAA coaches were already finessing safer techniques before the new rules were handed down.
“I’d be shocked if you found a high school coach in our state that had anything negative to say in terms of the practice limitations,” Kolster said.
The latest MHSAA concussion report (PDF) reveals those new practice techniques seem to be working. The number of concussions from football dropped for the second year in a row. And the report also said that 65% of football head injuries happened during games, not practice.
However, a national study done by Practice Like Pros shows most high school football concussions happen at practice. Fellows said that the national trend may be due to team scrimmages where varsity kids are up against second- or third-string players.
“If you don’t pair kids up ones versus ones, you’re asking for problems,” Fellows said. “When you go into a game situation, usually you have your best versus best.”
It’s no doubt a contact sport, but Fellows and Kolster agree that a focus on safety is crucial as they head into each season.
“Everybody’s competitive. Everybody wants to be successful (and) all of those things, but it’s still high school sports,” Kolster said.
By far, the most concussions in high school sports happen during football, MHSAA says. Ice hockey players suffered the second most concussions, according to the latest report. Next on the list were girls soccer, girls basketball, girls competitive cheerleading, girls lacrosse and then boys lacrosse.