Americans love football, but a growing concern has hovered over the sport in recent years: The risk of players suffering serious head injuries and concussions.
The recent lawsuit against the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) by former football players has sparked greater awareness over the long-term health consequences associated with repeated head impacts during games. Parents question whether they want to let their kids even play the sport—perhaps steering them toward soccer or basketball instead.
One company is addressing those concerns head on, making football safer for young players.
Shockbox, an Ottawa, Canada-based company, developed a wireless helmet sensor that helps parents and coaches gauge a player’s concussion risk. The sensors feed each player’s helmet impact data in real-time to a smartphone app and provides information to help parents or coaches determine whether an impact was severe enough to require a doctor’s consultation. The sensors—which attach to the inside of the helmet with Velcro—track the force and number of all head impacts, the direction of the hit and how the head rotates.
For example, a head impact above 50 or 60 g in peak linear acceleration is in the range where injuries are often recorded, Crossman says. While that level of impact doesn’t necessarily mean a player has suffered a concussion, it is worthy of being checked by a trained medical professional. The app also includes a 30- to 40-second mini-assessment that parents and coaches can use to gauge a player’s concussion risk using randomized memory and balance tests.
“This is a tool to help educate parents and coaches,” says Danny Crossman, Shockbox CEO. “It’s not going to take tackling out of football, but it is going to make people more informed. Many times people don’t know how severe a head injury needs to be before they go to the doctor. This will help them determine that.”
Crossman and his co-founder Scott Clark—longtime neighbors and running partners—first got the idea for a helmet sensor when Crossman worked for a defense company. He designed a helmet sensor that the U.S. military could use to monitor head injuries among soldiers. They had talked about creating a similar sensor for athletes. Then, in November 2010, Clark’s young son suffered a concussion during a hockey game. They incorporated as a business the next day.
The entrepreneurs began testing and selling their helmet sensors in 2011 for hockey players. But as the product gained recognition, they saw a clear market among the parents and coaches of young American football players—especially given the growing awareness and concern of concussions.
The company sells the Shockbox sensors directly to U.S. parents concerned about their child’s safety, but increasingly more youth, high school and college football teams are buying them for all their players. Coaches and trainers can use the sensors to determine which players experience the most head impacts and teach them techniques to tackle more safely.
“It will help people learn which tackling moves that aren’t the smartest in the world—like two little kids running head-to-head and smacking,” Crossman says.
Several university researchers have also used the Shockbox to study the concussion and head-injury risks of athletes. But the real goal of the product is education, information and empowerment.
“We hear from a lot of moms who use Shockbox that it gives them peace of mind,” Crossman says. “One mom wrote on Facebook that she made it through football season because she had a Shockbox.”