Nova Scotia

Dal's high-tech football helmets can help detect concussions from the sidelines

The helmets send a wireless alert to staff on the sidelines if a player sustains a hit that exceeds a certain threshold.

'We want to give ourselves every possible tool to help us keep them safe,' says head coach

Dalhousie University's football team will wear new helmets this season that are equipped with technology to analyze head impacts. (CBC)

This year's crop of Dalhousie University football players will receive brand new, high-tech helmets that can help detect concussions from the sidelines.

Head coach Mark Haggett said the team's old helmets were nearing the end of their 10-year lifespan. When management went shopping for new ones, they heard about the smart helmets and knew they would be worth the hefty cost of about $500 each.

"We take their noggins very seriously," Haggett said. "Football is a fast, physical, violent game.… We want to give ourselves every possible tool to help us keep them safe."

The Riddell SpeedFlex helmets have sensors that measure and record impacts to the head. When an impact reaches a certain threshold, the helmet sends a wireless alert to a handheld device on the sideline.

The trainer, coach or medical staff who receives the message can then decide whether to pull the player off the field for an examination.

A Dalhousie player wears one of the team's old helmets during the 2018 football season. Those helmets cost $300 each. (Mark Kays Photography)

Haggett believes Dal is the first university football team in Canada to equip all its players with the technology.

He said the helmets will be a vast improvement on the current comparatively "crude process" of detecting concussions, which relies on players to report an injury or coaches to witness it.

"If we've got 65 guys on the field and we're competing in practice, all eyes can't be everywhere at all times. These monitors take the guesswork out of it," he said.

Team president Casey Jones, who played with the Dal Tigers for four seasons before becoming a coach in 2017, said football players themselves don't always know — or take appropriate action — when they've taken a hard hit.

"There was this culture around football where you kind of need to suck it up and this is the nature of the sport and you go out there and play no matter how banged up your head might be," he said.

The team's old helmets, pictured above, will be replaced with new Riddell SpeedFlex helmets with technology that measures head impacts. (Mark Kays Photography)

Jones has witnessed the effect of concussions on players.

"They didn't even know what team we were playing or when we're going home on the bus, they didn't know where they were, why they were there, why they didn't play the rest of the game.

"It's really scary to see especially your close friends go through something like that. And I think with this new initiative we'll be able to kind of circumvent those things before they get to that point, hopefully."

Haggett said he has worked to eliminate any stigma among players about concussions, and encourages them to come forward if they have any concerns about their health. The helmets will provide an extra level of safety.

Mark Haggett is the head coach of the Dal Tigers football team. (Mark Kays Photography)

The technology allows coaches to analyze the hits a single player has taken over the course of a game or season and compare those statistics with other players on the team and national averages.

It also allows analysis based on players' positions on the field and can identify times during practice when head impacts have spiked.

"We can take a look at that during or after practice and say, 'Look, we need to think of a better drill that keeps these guys' heads away from each other,'" Haggett said.

The team has been fundraising online since last summer to pay for the 60 helmets. So far, it has raised almost half of its goal of $40,000, which includes yearly maintenance costs.

About the Author

Frances Willick is a journalist with CBC Nova Scotia. Please contact her with feedback, story ideas or tips at frances.willick@cbc.ca

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