Padded headgear in youth football: what is the evidence?

There is an ongoing debate as to whether protective headgear is an effective injury prevention measure in Australian football. The same debate extends to junior AFL, and whether our Australian youth really benefit from wearing padded headgear when playing the game.

A program of research led by MICCN’s Dr Catherine Willmott, in conjunction with experts including Professor Biswadev Mitra from the National Trauma Research Institute (NTRI), a Department of Alfred Health and Monash University, and with support from the AFL, has been awarded a $141,000 grant from Equity Trustees - The Walter Thomas Cottman Charitable Trust. The support is to evaluate attitudes towards the use of headgear, and the efficacy of headgear in the prevention of sports concussion across levels of junior Australian football.

Over the next three years, the proposed research program will compare baseline head, orofacial, and other injury rates across junior clubs which do/do not currently mandate headgear, and investigate the relationship between player attitudes towards headgear and on field behaviour.

“It is a primary goal for the AFL to make our game of Australian Football as safe as possible for all participants to play, within the bounds of a contact sport,” AFL General Manager Football Operations Steve Hocking said. “The AFL’s focus on reducing the risk of injury is equally applied across the elite level and community grassroots football. This partnership across industry, health providers and researchers aims to address the complexities around injury and how we can better build our policies for all levels of the game.”

Dr Willmott is proud to be leading the research program, adding “We are very grateful to have received this grant from Equity Trustees, and for the tremendous support of the AFL, which will enable us to address the complex issue of sports concussion and the use of headgear in junior Australian football. The project will also support the training of future research leaders, with MICCN students undertaking research as part of their PhD (Clinical Neuropsychology) course and contributing considerably to these projects."

In addition, this innovative research will help to inform Dr Willmott’s patient care at the Concussion Clinic that she leads within the Monash Psychology Centre. The Clinic accepts referrals from across Victoria and aims to deliver excellence in postgraduate training in clinical neuropsychology, innovative clinical research, and evidence-based patient services.

MICCN congratulates Dr Willmott and team on this wonderful achievement, and looks forward to the promisingly impactful project outcomes.

For more information on her research, contact Dr Catherine Willmott on t: 0413 545 495, e: Catherine.Willmott@monash.edu.

Equity Trustees grants aim to empower individuals to change their community, their circumstances and their lives.

MICCN is working in collaboration with elite sporting organisations to improve sporting performance through data analytics, and better management of sports concussion, nutrition and sleep. For more information on industry engagement opportunities in the sporting and other industry sectors, please contact Dr Andrew Tucker, MICCN’s General Manager Research Translation on t: 03 9905 0864, e: Andrew.Tucker@monash.edu.

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