Football is a collision sport. Work has been done in recent years to help limit those collisions, but they still happen. 

That’s why player safety is at the forefront for the Saskatchewan Selects football program as they prepare to head down to San Antonio, Tex. in a few weeks. 

For the first time, the Selects had their players go through baseline concussion testing and they will be able to evaluate an injured player right on the sidelines during games at the 2018 Pigskin International Football Classic. 

“We’ve said from the onset that the kids’ safety is paramount,” said Zeljko Stefanovic, program director. “It’s not the ones that we can tell clearly that they’re concussed, it’s the ones that are borderline, those are the ones that can cause more problems because if you let a kid go back in, the next one can be more severe.” 

The program will have a doctor travelling with the team to San Antonio and they will also have a technician from the concussion lab at the University of Regina with them. 

Stefanovic said they want to ensure that the players from the 11U, 12U, 14U and 16U teams have the best care possible. 

“When the San Antonio people were here and saw what we were doing with concussions and they’ve stepped up their game and partnered with a private orthopaedic surgeon that also specializes in concussions, so this is something that we’ve never had before where we feel this secure on the medical side,” said Stefanovic. 

Diagnosing concussions is one thing, but working to prevent them from happening in the first place is also a goal for the Sask Selects. 

Since the inception of the program six years ago, they’ve focused on teaching a more rugby-style of tackling that sees the players wrap-up the legs and roll the ball carrier. 

“The first thing we teach these kids is how to tackle properly,” said Stefanovic. “We practice and preach the hawk and roll, which is the rugby way of tackling and completely gets the head out of the equation.” 

Stefanovic added that having the kids face the ball carrier head-on leads to more contact with the head and in turn an increased chance of a head injury. 

“We make the kids tackle around the thighs and then we teach the kids that are carrying the ball to fall forward,” he said. “We also teach the kids how to protect themselves on interceptions.” 

The other big addition to the program is the Mobile Virtual Player tackling dummy that they have been using in practices throughout the past few months in preparation for the tournament. 

The Sask Selects will be back on the field at Yara Centre on Saturday and Sunday this weekend for their final practices before travelling down to Texas on Feb. 20.