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Maryland Officials Push Limit on Contact in Youth-Sports Practices

To reduce the risk of concussions, the Maryland education department wants to limit the number of contact practices allowed for youth-athletes who participate in collision sports, according to recommendations released today.

The department's concussion-implementation advisory panel classified football, boys' lacrosse, and ice hockey as "collision" sports, or sports where, "consistent with the purpose of the game, athletes hit or collide with each other or inanimate objects including the ground with great force." Basketball, field hockey, girls' lacrosse, soccer, and wrestling were classified as "contact" sports.

For both football and boys' lacrosse, the department recommends that coaches place "special emphasis" during practices on proper techniques for tackling and body checking, respectively. Both football and boys' lacrosse would also be subject to certain full-contact restrictions under the recommendations presented by the advisory panel.

During the football preseason, the department would prohibit any live hitting until the sixth day of practice. It defines "live hitting" as drills or live-game situations in which full-game-speed blocking and tackling of players to the ground occurs.

Once the season begins, teams would be limited to two live-hitting practices a week. Teams would also be prohibited from running live-hitting drills or live-game situations with live hitting the day prior to an actual game.

In boys' lacrosse, following the first day of the season, schools would be limited to a maximum of one full-contact practice per day. Boys' lacrosse teams also wouldn't be allowed to live body check in practice the day before a game.

For the five "contact" sports mentioned above, the department also made sport-by-sport recommendations on how to minimize the risk of concussions. Essentially, the panel suggests that coaches in those five sports place special emphasis on proper sport-specific techniques, such as picking and screening in basketball or heading techniques in soccer.

Here is the full set of recommendations, in case you're curious:

These recommendations were prompted by regulations passed by the state board of education back in May. Beyond requiring the state department of education to "recommend limitations of contact athletic exposures to reduce concussion risk," the May regulations mandated that coaches complete concussion training at least once every two years. Physical education teachers also began being required to go through concussion training.

"Student safety is our paramount concern, and our desire is to keep our athletes on the field and in the classroom," said schools Superintendent Lillian M. Lowery in a statement. "These recommendations follow those put in place by leading college and university athletic organizations, and we believe they will work well in Maryland schools."

Earlier this year, the Pac-12 conference announced a plan to limit the amount of contact allowed in football practices, starting this fall. The Ivy League conference did the same in 2011. In the youth-football realm, Pop Warner in the summer of 2012 implemented a ban on coaches utilizing more than one-third of practice time for contact drills.

In other youth-concussion-related news: A Massachusetts bill scheduled for a hearing next month would require baseline concussion testing for all high school student-athletes in any school, public, private, or otherwise. The state's joint committee on public health will have a hearing about the bill on Sept. 10 at 10 a.m.

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