SPARKS, Nev. - The Pop Warner football season is underway in Sparks. About 430 athletes of all ages are taking to the gridiron this summer and those that have been here before might notice some new rules on the practice field. They’re designed with safety in mind.
“There’s a little bit of a rule change which is great for the kids,” Pop Warner Coach Jess Horning said. “It’s coming down from the NFL regarding the concussion issue and basically you can’t start head to head any greater than three yards apart in practice.”
A second rule limits the amount of contact drills to 40 minutes per practice.
“I think it’s a good think for the league; the rules were implemented mainly for concussions,” Sparks Pop Warner Football Commissioner Kelly McKennan said. “They found out through some studies that concussions at this level added up over the years and Pop Warner is governed by the NFL so the NFL set down these rules.”
In some ways it changes how the teams practice.
“A lot of the drills we used to do over the years we can’t do any more,” Horning said. “Some of the drills we used to do to fire the kids up and teach them how to hit hard we can’t do any more, we have to do it more in a group setting which is why we’re working more on angles than we are head to head.”
Some of the players are already seeing a difference.
“It’s better because it means less headaches,” 13-year-old defensive end Leo Vargas said. “I say that the brain is the most important part of the body and you should protect it as much as you can.”
Coaches agree the rules will help cut down on injuries during practice.
“Our goal is to eliminate injuries and I think by doing this we’re definitely going to eliminate injuries during practice,” McKennan said. “Every year we have kids getting hurt during practice; we had a couple of concussions during practice last year and I don’t see us having any of that this year.”
But game day is another story.
“Game situations you can’t control like we control practice,” McKennan said.
“The only think that worries me a little about these rules is a football field is 100 yards,” Horning said. “On kickoff returns people are starting out 40 yards downfield and are going fast so you have to be able to get used to those types of hits and delivering those types of hits as well because if you don’t you’re going to get hurt.”