Erik Swartz, Ph.D., ATC, FNATA, was recently announced as the featured speaker for the annual Saint Louis University Athletic Training Speakers Series and Recognition Ceremony this spring. The event is presented by the Saint Louis University chapter of Iota Tau Alpha National Athletic Training Honor Society.
Swartz is a professor and the Department of Kinesiology chair at the University of New Hampshire; he is also the creator of a new football tackling and blocking program designed to reduce head injuries in athletes. Swartz’s presentation - "Changing the Paradigm: Can Taking Football Helmets Off Reduce Head Injuries?" - will take place at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 20, in the Huh Auditorium at the Center for Global Citizenship at Saint Louis University.
For years, the medical community has been working to find a way to combat the risks of head injuries in popular sports such as football. Recently, the immediate and long-term dangers involved with head injuries in sports has been highlighted in popular culture as well with the release of the movie Concussion, a film based on Dr. Bennet Omalu discovering the brain disease Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), and notable organizations such as the National Football League (NFL), Under Armour and GE among others supporting research on how to prevent head injuries.
While many of the efforts to reduce head injuries in football rely on changing existing head protection, Swartz has developed a method that is doing just the opposite: taking the head protection off of the athletes. Swartz’s Helmetless Tackling Training - or HuTT® Technique - involves removing the helmets during controlled tackling drills in football practices. The technique forces players to focus on proper tackling technique in practice and makes players more likely to keep their heads out of harm’s way during practices and games when they are wearing helmets. The HuTT® Technique has been in place at the University of New Hampshire since the 2014 football season and Swartz was recently awarded a $500,000 grant from the Head Health Challenge II (part of a head health collaboration between the NFL and GE intended to accelerate concussion research) to expand the study’s scope to include football players multiple New Hampshire high schools.
When asked about how he came up with the idea for HuTT®, Swartz gave credit to his own experience as an athlete, but not as a football player.
“[I got the idea] primarily because of my experience playing rugby for about eight years,” Swartz said. “Knowing that, when I tackled other players, I would not lead with my head, and this was because I wasn’t wearing a helmet, so I naturally tried to keep my head out of the contact; it’s a natural reflex.”
Swartz is confident that, if implemented correctly, this new technique can make the game safer.
“The helmetless technique will leverage the natural vulnerability someone has when going into contact, incentivizing them to keep their head out of the way,” Swartz said. “Training in the helmetless state on a regular basis eventually will establish motor memory, so that, over time, they are more likely to maintain the safer behavior even when the helmet is on.”
After the featured speaker, there will be a panel discussion addressing head safety issues facing the sport of football today. The panel will include: Washington University Athletic Training and former St. Louis Rams Athletic Trainer Jim Anderson, Super Bowl Champion and former St. Louis Rams Center Andy McCollum and Christian Brothers College (CBC) High School Football Coach Scott Pingel.
Saint Louis University Athletic Training Program director Anthony Breitbach, Ph.D., ATC, is very excited about the opportunity to bring such an event to the community.
“We are fortunate to have Dr. Swartz and the distinguished panel members on our campus to discuss such an important topic,” Breitbach said. “The experience will benefit our students, our faculty and the greater St. Louis community.”
The Sixth Annual Athletic Training Speaker Series and Recognition Ceremony, supported by the SLU Student Government Association, is free of charge and open to the public. For more information, call (314) 977-8561 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.