In one football practice, some players may take several hits, while others take a few big blows.
For coaches and trainers, keeping track of it all can be difficult.
“A lot of times when we’re on the field, it’s hard to see every hit. When we’re looking at particular players, there could be a hit somewhere else,” says head athletic trainer Brandy Clouse.
So Georgia Southern University bought a system called HITS, which stands for Helmet Impact Telemetry System.
Six sensors are placed inside a player’s helmet to measure the impact of each hit. They send the data to a computer that tracks the numbers throughout practice or a game.
“We get a reading as to how much force and how much acceleration occurred to the head. So we’re able to identify injuries, hopefully, before they occur or as they occur in real time,” says researcher Tom Buckley. “The average concussion in the NFL was at 98 Gs, so any impact that comes in above 98 Gs, our athletic training staff gets a warning.”
He says that’s about the same as the impact from a car crash at 20 to 25 mph.
“If there’s a response that comes to the pager, I can go check with the student-athlete first, monitor him. Then I may go back to the monitor over here that shows me exactly where he took that hit,” says Clouse.
Coaches and athletic trainers can find out exactly what the player was doing when he took a big hit by syncing the system with game or practice footage.
“We can work with the athletic training and coaching staff and say, `What is this player doing at this time? Can we change what this player is doing? What can we do maybe to keep his head up?’ So maybe he never even gets a concussion in the first place,” explains Buckley.
“We’ll do a better job based on the data that we get at coaching our guys and getting them to not use their head,” says Eagles’ head coach Jeff Monken. “This is a great game, and I don’t want the game to change. It’s a physical game and that’s one of the things that makes it so exciting.”
Some players say it took a little while to get used to the new equipment.
“Almost just like breaking in a cleat,” says safety Matt Dobson. “It takes you a little while to get used to it. The helmet with the little sensors in there, they poke around in your head a little bit, but you get used to it.”
And after only a week, the medical staff says they’ve already seen its benefits.
“It was on a blocking drill. There were about seven or eight kids all in a small area, and we got a warning that came through of a person with a high impact and we were able to take that person off and take a look at them. We would have never seen that under normal circumstances,” says Buckley.
The sensors only fit in certain models of Ridell helmets and cost around $1,500 a set. Georgia Southern University bought 40 and the monitoring equipment, for a total of $75,000 for the entire system.
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