Sioux Falls, SD
By design, football is a sport that requires hard contact. Each player on the field knows that and knows the risks of putting on the pads.
"I want to always be protected and to know that I have the least chance of getting hurt as possible, and I think that's for everybody. With football comes risks," Roosevelt QB Taryn Christion said.
It's a sport that's changed with every season. Roosevelt coach Kim Nelson has spent his entire life around football, learning the game from his father. Comparing that time to now, it's an entirely different environment.
"We were allowed to drink water before we started, and then we didn't get a break until practice was over. We'd go for 2 1/2 hours sometimes. We expected that; we were used to it," Nelson said.
Now, coaching staffs across the country are focusing on better ways to keep everyone healthy. For Roosevelt, the rules about players drinking water are non-negotiable.
"We have a lot of trainers that are actually students right now that are always around with water bottles keeping everybody hydrated so we're all in tip-top shape and always have water by our sides if we need it," Christion said.
"We don't have a water break. We have water available all the time, and our managers work really hard to move the water around the practice field and if a player is offered water by a manager, he must take a drink," Nelson said.
Trainers are also paying attention to the temperature.
"They've had rules about how hot it is. Right now, we have a pretty hot day but it's not too bad. If it gets too hot, our trainer will tell our coaches to cut practice short or cut it all together and we'll go inside and do a film session so that we're not getting over-heated," Christion said.
Nelson also runs all of his practices with no contact and nobody in full pads. It's a new level of caution that he says is long overdue.
"If I coach the way I was coached, we'd scrimmage for two hours every night in full pads and we'd pound the heck out of each other and somebody would get hurt," Nelson said.
"It helps and hurts because you would like to get on the field to do some work and get timing down, especially with me and my receivers, getting throwing stuff down," Christion said.
The changes are meant to keep players on the field longer.
"Unfortunately, in many regards, there's been a reactive response to the injuries that have been occurring rather than a proactive response," Dr. Thayne Munce said.
Munce, with the Sanford Sports Science Institute, is a former football player who now dedicates his life to making the sport safer.
"We've made a lot of positive steps forward both in terms of implementing hydration and water breaks, but also not putting the athletes under stress too much too soon when they're exercising in these hot, humid conditions," Munce said.
Nelson says that one concussion or heat-related injury is too many, but he says they are walking a thin line. Any drastic changes would likely alter the sport of football forever.
"I think we need to be careful down the road that we don't panic too much about the concussions because we're getting to the point now where we've reduced them so much that it's safer to play football then it is to drive a car," Nelson said.
Whatever changes come in the future for the sport, it's all for the sake of safety and the continuation of the game for years to come.
"The days of hitting for the sake of hitting or going out and running people into the ground just to test the athletes to see how well-conditioned they are, I think those are gone," Munce said.
"Football, yeah, you're getting contact in every play, but they're doing everything they can to keep us as safe as possible," Christion said.
Munce says that he is happy to see so many area schools taking safety very seriously, but adds that as medicine continues to advance, he wouldn't be surprised to see more changes made to practices to keep the kids even safer.
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