New concussion alert technology is aimed at reducing injuries in young players
One of the biggest topics in football today is head injuries. And it’s become more important than ever to find ways to make the game safer. Solutions have ranged from stiffer penalties for head hits in the pro game to teaching safer tackling at the youth level.
But technology is playing an important role, too. Athletic equipment companies have worked to develop sensors and alert systems to track especially heavy hits and warn of possible head trauma. And in New York last month, the helmet manufacturer Riddell launched the latest entry in this growing field, the InSite Impact Response System.
“We need to clean up and change the game, improve it,” former Steelers quarterback and current ESPN analyst Merril Hoge said at the Riddell launch event, In the Film Room. “Here’s another tool. Here’s another opportunity.”
How It Works
The InSite is a product designed to help coaches and players from ages eight to 21 identify when a player has taken a potentially dangerous hit to the head. It was developed off of Riddell’s Head Impact Telemetry System (HITS) and Sideline Response System (SRS), which have been monitoring and analyzing head impacts at the college level since 2003.
There are two pieces to the InSite technology: A paper-thin membrane with five sensor points inserted into Riddell’s Speed helmet, and a hand-held monitoring unit used by coaches and trainers on the sideline. When a player wearing the InSite takes a hit to the head, data is collected based on where on the helmet the hit happened and the force of the hit.
If the sensors detect a potentially dangerous hit has occurred, an alert is sent to the sideline monitor that includes information on the hit and what player sustained it. Whoever is holding the monitor will take that player out of the game, assess the severity of the hit, and decide whether further concussion testing should be done.
“This is not a diagnostic tool,” Thad Ide, Riddell’s Senior Vice President Research & Product Development, stated. “It’s another tool to help gauge what’s going on on the field.”
Ultimately, the InSite system is only a success on the field when everyone — coaches, trainers, players, and parents — works together off of it. This was something Westlake (California) High School Head Athletic Trainer Scott Blatt learned firsthand when his school became an InSite pilot program.
The school’s football coach purchased 20 InSite units, and Blatt sat down with parents to explain the technology and see who would be interested in it. Some parents were eager to learn more about how it could keep their kids safe. Others, Blatt remembered, were a little more skeptical — they didn’t want their kid to lose playing time.
“I want to make it the best experience and safest experience for them,” Blatt told Sports Illustrated Kids. “I want them to play. I’ll do everything I can to keep our kids on the field as long as it’s safe. If I’m making the decision to pull them out, I feel it’s best for their safety.”
Eventually, the 20 InSites Westlake purchased were sold to 20 families with kids who played on the varsity, junior varsity, and freshman teams. Coaches were supportive of their use, and they never got in the way of Blatt taking a kid out of a game to assess a potential injury.
During the season, the InSites detected multiple incidents of potentially dangerous head hits, and in one or two cases Blatt caught concussion symptoms much earlier than he would have without the technology. For him, the health and safety of the players is how teams should measure success.
“Most of us are not there for the income. We don’t make that much working for a high school,” Blatt said. “But we enjoy working with the kids. And at the end of the season, for me, if we’re 5-5 and all our kids are healthy, that’s a winning season.”
Photos: Andrew Hancock for Sports Illustrated; courtesy Riddell