TODAY   |  June 13, 2012

Pop Warner changes rules to avoid concussions

Based on new research showing more head injuries occur during practice than during games, the nation’s largest and oldest youth football organization is creating new guidelines for contact between young players to protect them from concussions. NBC’s chief medical editor, Nancy Snyderman, reports.

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>> new guidelines aimed at making football safer for hundreds of thousands of young athletes in the country. nbc's nancy snyderman is the chief medical editor for our company.

>> in terms of football this is going to be a game changer. it has to be with pop warner football , the oldest youth football organization. they are literally changing the rule book . they are addressing the kind of contact allowed in the game and particularly in practice. not only to avoid safe play but to avoid dangerous concussions. there are nearly 4 million sports related concussions in the united states this year and football counts for more than half of those. new research show more head injuries during practice than a game. that's why there's a concussion initiative. most pop warner kids practice nine hours a week. new guidelines will have only a third of that in head to head contact. no direct hits and contact in a three-foot zone. the group's executive director says safety comes first now but admits things weren't always that way.

>> i think particularly with concussions so much of it was a lack of awareness. you got dinged, get back in the game.

>> for this family, pop warner is a big part of life. 8-year-old anthony plays football. sister mattie is a pop warner cheerleader, dad matt a coach and his wife roberta a spirit squad leader. they joined in part because of the safety philosophy. when in doubt, sit it out, and says the new regulations are even more reassuring.

>> it's a sense of comfort knowing that he's not going to get hit all the time.

>> he never got a scan?

>> dr. julian bales say kids' brains are more susceptible.

>> a second or third concussion, really can have detrimental effects and a degradation in their function.

>> you weren't knocked out, were you?

>> that's why doctors are keeping close eyes on kids like dominic holster, he's had three concussions and now wears a special helmet on the field and gets regular checkups. more than 280,000 kids participate in pop warner nationwide. these regulations are going to impact a lot of players. the bottom line, ann, we have to protect their young brains because they are more vulnerable.

>> very important story. it is