'We need to improve': Montreal Carabins coach says football must evolve to curtail head injuries

Danny Maciocia, head coach of the Université de Montréal Carabins, feels like his sport could be doing a better job of protecting the young people who play it.

Danny Maciocia says he believes his sport could do a better job of protecting young people who play it

Montreal Carabins head coach Danny Maciocia raises his arm in celebration of their 25-10 win in the CIS Mitchell Bowl football championship game. Maciocia says he is concerned about where the sport is headed when it comes to injury prevention. (Dave Chidley/Canadian Press)

For Canadian football fans, Danny Maciocia's name is pretty recognizable. The Saint-Léonard native has been coaching the sport for 25 years, including 14 in the Canadian Football League.

Maciocia is now head coach of the Université de Montréal Carabins. He says attitudes among those in the sport need to change in order to protect young players from head injuries.

In light of recent events, including a Concordia Stingers quarterback's public plea to address "unjustly violent hits" and the cancellation of a high school football game in New Brunswick after nine players sustained head injuries, CBC Montreal's Daybreak spoke to Maciocia about his views on improving the game. 

His answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: The number of young Quebecers signing up for football is in free fall. In 2013, 36,000 young people signed up. Three years later, that number was 26,000. Why are we seeing such a big drop in football registrations?

It's unfortunate, because it's a great game. There are a lot of life lessons to be learned on a football field that are transferrable to everyday life. It's a sport that has given me a lot of satisfaction, as far as giving me an opportunity to meet great people, visit this great country.

My biggest concern with the sport moving forward, and I think it shows up in the inscriptions, is there's an education process I think needs to kick in. We need to improve our best practices.

Q: Do you think the concerns are justified, the anxiety of parents out there? Is there a problem that needs to be fixed?

Oh, absolutely.

Concussions don't necessarily happen when it's head to head contact. There are so many different ways you can get a concussion. I think the game has evolved so much on the field that some of the people off of it are about 10 years behind, as far as it comes to how to approach the sport.

There's an education that needs to happen, that's why I have [proposed] with the university league a summit where we bring in medical experts and coaches, and we just talk about the game and where it's headed.

Q: In the CF,L they practise without pads. Is that the sort of thing that needs to be done?

Yes, and all that means is there's less contact over the course of a regular work week.

I'll use a baseball analogy — when a pitcher reaches 130 pitches, they bring in a reliever. We need to have a hit count — how many can a kid take before a game? If you can minimize the number of hits he takes as a young player, chances are you're only going to help your case as far as limiting concussions.
Danny Maciocia poses with the Grey Cup. He has been coaching football for 25 years, including 14 in the Canadian Football League. (Richard Lam/Canadian Press)

Q: Is that philosophy trickling down to high school, CEGEP, university leagues?

I don't think it has at all. It's something we're doing at the Université de Montreal, and I've been proactive about this. Here our hitting is extremely limited.

When you take a look at the NFL, they have one padded practice a week. We're doing this for the pros, but we're not taking care of our future.

We're telling our next generation of young kids that we're going to practise and play a particular way, knowing full well this line of thinking is about 10 or 15 years behind what I deem to be common sense.

Another concern is when coaches say, "We didn't play well this week, so we're going to get the pads and helmets on." That thinking is so passé.

It's alarming. There needs to be an education. We have to bring it forward. We have to reduce the gap in knowledge.

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak


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