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  • Terry O'Neil

NFL, NCAA Reducing Practice Contact


The NFL and NCAA are both acting this month to reduce practice contact.


In 2020, the pandemic and a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) combined to eliminate NFL off-season practices, reduce training-camp practices and eliminate pre-season games. The result: A 30% reduction in player concussions and 23% reduction in missed time due to injuries, all without a perceptible decrease in quality of play.


Emboldened by this data, the NFL Players Association is attempting to extend last year's reforms into the current 2021 off-season. The official NFL off-season is nine weeks from mid-April through mid-June, but only one week is mandatory. By declining the eight voluntary weeks, players have forced coaches, club-by-club, to negotiate change. For instance, the Indianapolis Colts this week cut a deal with their players to shrink nine weeks into two weeks of light, non-contact workouts, finish by Memorial Day and have eight weeks off before the start of training camp.


NFLPA President/Cleveland Browns center J.C. Tretter approved, saying, "Last season demonstrated that we can put an entertaining product on the field while reducing wear and tear on players' bodies. If we've identified strategies for reducing concussions by 30% and it doesn't involve modifying game rules, it would be reckless NOT to implement those changes."


Quarterback Tom Brady was more colorful. In a NFLPA conference call last week, he urged his peers to stand firm against "overly competitive drills in May and June. There's no f---ing pro baseball pitcher who's throwing 95 miles an hour in December," said Brady.


Meanwhile, the NCAA Football Oversight Committee last week announced recommendations to reduce contact in college football practice and scrimmages. This comes three months after release of NCAA-sponsored research which shockingly revealed 72% of college football concussions occur in practice, only 28% in games. (See February 5 Practice Like Pros newsletter.)


The NCAA announcement prompted Dr. David Geier, sports medicine specialist, Mt. Pleasant, SC, to advocate reform in high school football. But the mission at lower levels of the game is more difficult. Inexperienced high school players need more on-field training than NFL veterans, yet their fragile, still-developing brains need more protection. How to strike the correct balance?


At this moment, as you're reading, NFL and college coaches are devising new and better ways to practice with limited contact. Mandates outlined above are the mother of their invention. It's an evolutionary process begun 10 years ago when Ivy League university presidents first restricted contact, followed a few months later by the 2011 NFL CBA. Ever since, NFL and college coaches have been getting their players ready for gameday with less and less contact.


Their drills and techniques are football treasure, craved by high school coaches in detail, delivered slowly, carefully, specifically, in a clinic setting with a huge video screen and plenty of time reserved for questions: "What are the rules of engagement for each drill? Exactly what do you tell your players? What is your definition of full contact? How do you teach tackling without full contact? Will you give me video that I can screen with my staff, my players, their parents?"


This is the process we've seen in our Practice Like Pros touring video clinic. It works. NFL and college coaches are fulfilled to be sharing their expertise, high school coaches are grateful for the tutorial. All of them know: This is the future.

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