A repeat Vanier Cup win is definitely in their sights, but the UBC Thunderbirds have another ambitious goal for the upcoming football season – reduce the number of team concussions. It’s no secret that football is a high-impact sport and concussions are all too common. Too many players at all levels of the sport have had their careers and lives sidelined by a crushing blow to the head. The Thunderbirds don’t want to see that happen to their players.
“There’s a lot of concern around the concussion issue in football,” said coach Blake Nill. “A lot of that concern is around just the amount of impact our athletes take over and over and over throughout the season.”
Their approach, however, may seem to defy convention. The team is practicing without the bulky padding normally associated with North American style football. Concussion researchers at the university have been studying the team and found a link between the amount of hits a player takes and the amount of padding worn.
Without the padding in practices, tackles and hits are not as intense as when the player is heavily protected. Sound strange? If you watched any of the men’s boxing bouts at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, you’d have noticed something similar.
For the first time since the 1980s, male boxers in Rio were not wearing protective headgear (though women boxers still did). Research in that sport showed that the headgear was not necessarily protecting boxers as intended – they were still vulnerable to heavy hits and exposed in areas, like the jaw, which cause even worse concussions.
Back at UBC, the researchers have equipped players with heart and mouth guard monitors to measure the impact of hits in practice and during the season. The team is hoping that focusing on player health will help them keep winning, both on the field and off.
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