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Sport Scientist Finds Better Approach to Football Practices Brings Safer Play

By NEYT, 10/17/21, 9:00PM EDT


Dr. Thayne Munce of Sanford Health, one of the largest health systems in the United States, is a member of the USA Football Medical Advisory Panel. Dr. Munce has served Sanford Health for more than a decade and is part of the Leadership Board of the National Youth Sports Health and Safety Institute.

Dr. Munce’s work to research and advance player safety in youth football is a particular area of focus, inspired by his life-long experience in the sport. He was the principal investigator of a recent study published by Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine. The study, which monitored a youth football team for eight seasons, found a 79 percent reduction in head impacts over the course of its research.

When asked about the study he said, “Throughout the study, we saw a remarkable reduction in head impacts that players experienced during practices and games. While we did not identify the specific factor(s) responsible for the observed decrease, changes in coaching and/or player behavior in response to education and awareness of concussions and the dangers of repetitive head impacts are likely explanations.”

One of the things Dr. Munce highlights from the study is the steep decrease in the number of head impacts to a player during practice. Employing football innovations like a progression model, limited contact play, and principles from the nationally endorsed “Heads Up Football” program created by USA Football, youth players worked on their skills while also maintaining a safer practice environment. Dr. Munce said, “Awareness and education go hand in hand with Heads Up Football.

“The mentality and approach to the game are different now; instead of making hitting someone hard important, the fundamentals are where we focus,” he added.

Football is an ever-changing game that is always evolving, and by giving coaches the awareness and education they need, the game has become safer.

Of USA Football’s role in the current landscape of youth football, the former National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete said, “I see USA Football as the caretaker of the sport. It is a people-first organization that develops young, healthy athletes, and that is what I appreciate about their work. The sport of football is a vehicle for growth and the people always come first.”

Dr. Munce is a trailblazer in his field, inspiring many through his work. USA Football values his insight, experience, and trust in advancing the lives of young athletes – mentally, emotionally, and physically – through a sport they love to play.