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  • Terry O'Neil

Participation Decline Slowed in 2019


The decline in high school football participation slowed dramatically last season. Data released yesterday by the National Federation of High Schools (NFHS) showed decreased nationwide participation in 11-player football of just 2,489 players or 00.25%.  This contrasts with much steeper drops in recent years:

  • 2015 to 2016:  decline of 23,311 players

  • 2016 to 2017:  decline of 20,540 players

  • 2017 to 2018:  decline of 30,829 players

  • 2018 to 2019:  decline of 2,489 players

What 's the reason for this change? Dr. Karissa Niehoff, Executive Director of NFHS, said, "These numbers suggest to us that parents are appreciative of the risk minimization efforts that have been put in place.  Every state has enacted rules that limit the amount of contact before the season and during practice..." PLP founder Terry O'Neil responded, "We agree with Dr. Niehoff.  In our travels, we find parents' chief concern is injury prevention.  They appreciate post-injury advancements in diagnosis, treatment and return-to-play, but their primary question is:  'What are we doing to prevent injury?'" Reduction in practice contact has been led by state governing bodies of high school athletics in New Jersey and North Carolina.  These states have recently mandated no full contact in spring/summer, six hours total in pre-season, 15 minutes per week in regular season. Meanwhile, the NFL continues to set a fine example.  In the current pre-season, with extensive full contact permitted, most coaches have chosen instead to practice and scrimmage in "thud" tempo, which prohibits tackling to the ground.  Various NFL and college coaches have demonstrated these techniques to the high school community in PLP clinics around the country. "High school coaches are willing to change, eager to change," said O'Neil.  "The leadership of NFHS, state governing bodies and state coaches' associations has been pivotal.  Once we navigate this unusual 2020-21 season, more states will be able to focus on tight contact limits."

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