Teenagers who play high school football are three times more likely to be injured than those in other sports, according to statistics.
USA Football estimates there are 3,000,000 youth football players in the United States.
Knee, ACL, shoulder and various other injuries are common, but concussions are the most common. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, 57% of high school football players suffer a concussion during practice — when most injuries occur.
Alex Okun, 16, who plays for Wayne Valley in New Jersey, injured his shoulder in a 2018 game, although he too said most injuries occur during practice. As a player he was provided with preseason conditioning and training to help prepare for the risk of receiving an injury, as well as help during recovery, but football is riddled with the risk of injury, he said.
Those injuries can be caused by a number of things, including style of play and the type of tackling and blocking techniques.
According to an annual survey of football injuries by the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research, “Coaches who are teaching helmet or face to the numbers tackling and blocking or who do not correct improper tackling techniques are placing their players at risk for permanent paralysis or death.” When a coach does not correct this behavior it creates a larger margin of error for a player during practice or a game, according to the survey.
The type of injury and the recovery can affect a high school player’s future, and coaches tend to look at players who have sustained a previous serious injury with a hard eye.
“If an athlete… had surgery and is fully playing their sport again without restrictions, then there is less concern. If… they are unable to fully recover from and it affects their performance, that becomes a concern,” said Bob Howard, the assistant director of athletics at the University of Connecticut. “In college, we usually average between 130 and 150 injuries per season… The profile of injuries is similar to high school but I do not know for sure the total numbers they suffer.”
Conditioning and proper training can reduce the number of injuries, especially head and neck injuries, according to the NCCSIR survey.
“Athletes must be given proper conditioning exercises that will strengthen bodies to withstand the workloads and energy expenditure throughout the game given their positions and time played,” according to the survey. “Strengthening [players’] necks in order to hold their heads in proper position when tackling and to absorb impact energy to control head movement is important. Players should also have appropriate flexibility and range of motion of the shoulder and neck complex. These preparatory activities can provide the athlete with the ability to sustain good tackling and athletic skills throughout the game situations.”
Steve Simonetti, 17, who also plays for Wayne Valley High School, sustained a spiral fracture to his fibula in 2018. He said he, too, believes conditioning “does seem to have an effect at decreasing the number of injuries.”
Rachel Lindsay is a student at Wayne Valley High School in New Jersey.