Research Communications

Athletic trainers work to protect young athletes from injury 

By Karen Fatula

Player safety is a big concern for the nation's youth football leagues. Medical experts have endorsed using different tackling techniques, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention promotes concussion awareness protocols to avoid athlete injuries.

To better understand the risks of youth (or "peewee") football, Ohio University's Division of Athletic Training has partnered with USA Football and the Datalys Center on a nationwide study. Of 10 data collection sites across the country, Ohio University is responsible for three, says Brian Ragan, an assistant professor of athletic training.

"This is the first injury epidemiology study looking at youth football," he says.

Matthew Jackson and Kristen Wells, both first-year master's students in the athletic training program, helped Ragan collect data during fall 2012. The graduate students worked 20 hours per week on the study, attending all practices and games with the selected teams in West Virginia and Ohio.

"Our program has traditionally only offered clinical graduate assistant opportunities. This year was the first year where there was a chance for research assistantships, and Kristen and I both jumped on the opportunity," Jackson says.


Kristen Wells and Matthew Jackson. (Photo credit: Rob Hardin)

In addition to the data collection, the graduate students taught players and coaches proper safety protocols, which helped to reduce injuries. Not many youth football leagues enjoy the benefit of having their own athletic trainers, they note.

"This is the first time they have had an athletic trainer on the sideline at all practices and games, and they really enjoy the opportunity," Jackson says.

Jackson and Wells both say they chose to attend Ohio University for the research opportunities the school offered. In addition to the youth football safety project, they're embarking on related studies for their master's theses.

Wells is examining the adherence of student athletes to concussion rehabilitation protocols. She has designed an Apple iApp so athletes can record their activity and symptoms.

Jackson is applying social cognitive theory and the idea of mental toughness to promote weight loss among obese people. He plans to turn weight loss into a competition and will use motivational e-mails to encourage participants to keep up with the program.

This article appears in the special graduate student edition of Perspectives magazine, published in spring 2013.