Concord-Carlisle president Kevin Smith used to employ a tackling drill that simulated a running back weaving between blocks while a linebacker pursued to make a tackle.
“We didn't do it often, but we felt like we should do it to simulate a game,’’ Smith said. “We've stopped that. We limited it significantly last year, and this year we eliminated it entirely. Players will be in close quarters. What live hitting we do, it won't be nearly as violent.’’
Both Smith and Foxborough president Phil Thomas said they did not keep track of the amount of time spent on contact drills in practice because they were sure their teams were under the one-third limit.
According to Thomas, the amount of contact time shouldn't affect how players execute fundamentals of the game, like tackling.
“We teach all our techniques without hitting,’’ Thomas said. “We walk through it slowly. When we teach tackling we use a dummy. We don't even go live. We go nice and easy, slow so they know what to do. Then we go half speed onto a dummy. You go on a dummy then onto a person. . . . You're going to eventually go full speed, but it's baby steps. Then they're ready for full speed.’’
A number of youth football programs in the area compete under the umbrella of American Youth Football, not Pop Warner. Bay State Youth Football, for instance, fields programs in Framingham, Milton, Natick, Needham, Norwood, Walpole, and Weymouth.
American Youth Football president Joe Galat said that there have been no rules changes this season to protect further against head injuries, though he maintains that the organization has always placed the utmost importance on player safety. Coaches are urged to foster a culture of good sportsmanship, and, as with Pop Warner, they are trained to be able to recognize potential head injuries suffered by their players. American Youth Football, like Pop Warner, also emphasizes the importance of having safe facilities and equipment. Galat said the organization is participating in research this season to try to find new, safer helmets.
“We don’t have all the answers,“ said Galat. “I wish we did. But we’re working on it.“
Though practices of many Pop Warner programs locally have not seen significant change with the new rules, the limits placed on contact time have affected how some parents watch.
April Tavares attends each of her 14-year-old son Ricky's practices at Glendale Park. She said she still worries about him sustaining an injury, but she appreciated that Pop Warner altered its rules to try to keep its players safe.
“I'm all for it,’’ she said as she watched Ricky, a center, intently. “Any rule that makes it better and protects the kids is the most important.’’
Phil Perry can be reached at email@example.com.