Playing Contact Sports May be Hazardous to Your Kids Health

The Pediatric Society of US and Canada recommend that children avoid contact sports altogether— the risks of head trauma even mild head injuries, are too great (Purcell, 2014) .  As more and more research comes to light, it would be irresponsible for the medical community NOT to create such a warning.

Football at young ages puts kids at significant risk for head trauma. Photo Credit: Carlos M. Saavedra/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) CREDIT: Carlos M. Saavedra (Photo by Carlos M. Saavedra /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

Football at young ages puts kids at significant risk for head trauma. Photo Credit: Carlos M. Saavedra/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

Concussions are a hot topic in the medical sports community with the increasing incidents of youth concussions in conjunction with emerging research on head injuries that highlight the detrimental effects of head trauma to young athletes, even mild head injuries not classified as concussions.  Thankfully the topic is moving beyond the medical community and into mainstream media.  Last week The New York Times published an op-ed titled “Don’t Let Kids Play Football” by chief medical examiner of San Joaquin County, CA (Omalu, 2015).  The concussion-risk news will alarm some parents and cause skepticism in others. Yet the evidence is mounting against kids playing contact sports.

A recently published book “Sports-related Concussions in Youth” revealed some (alarming) facts:

  …concussion rates are more frequent among high school athletes than college athletes in some sports —including football, men’s lacrosse and soccer, and baseball; higher for competition than practice (except for cheerleading); and highest in football, ice hockey, lacrosse, wrestling, soccer, and women’s basketball.  Concussion rates also appear higher for youths with a history of prior concussions and among female athletes. (Graham et al. 2014)

The pressure is on for schools and leagues to respond. More so when there’s class action lawsuits, as there is with a group of parents against U.S. Soccer and four other soccer associations for their mishandling of concussions and head trauma.  It’s no coincidence that  US youth soccer federation is launching a ‘Player Safety Campaign’ and also published a statement outlining new rules that soccer players aged 10 and younger should be prohibited from heading the ball, and players 11 through 13 should only be allowed to do so during practice (U.S. Soccer, 2015).

Detrimental effects of concussions were first thought to be exclusive to NFL football players, yet the medical community has brought concussion risks and a related progressive brain disease that shows up later in life CTE to the attention of youth sports community due to the overwhelming evidence of risks. It’s creating a culture change in sports that we can see by campaigns to educate athletes, coaches, physicians, and parents of young athletes about concussion recognition and management (Graham, 2014).

50anniv-logoParallels to the Surgeon General’s Warning
I see parallels between the recent concussion warnings and the ‘smoking is bad for your health’ phenomenon that began in the late 1950’s.  The Surgeon General made a statement in 1957 announcing its official position on smoking; smoking is harmful to your health—overwhelming evidence pointed to a causal relationship between smoking and lung cancer. But the majority of the public didn’t buy in. A Gallup Survey from 1958 found that only 44 percent of Americans believed smoking caused cancer.  Over time though as more information became available, public opinion did change. By 1968 over 78 percent of the public believed that smoking was a health hazard; it became common knowledge that smoking damaged health for the smoker and carried risks for those exposed to second-hand smoke.

What’s Next?
Will parents stop putting their kids in contact sports? Will leagues be forced to change rules, limit participation? Likely, it will take time before we see significant change. Doing so represents a change in culture. One where sports leagues, associations, sports companies and clubs have much at stake. Yet as awareness expands and sources of information go beyond the medial community change is inevitable.

Another example similar to the the New York Times article where concussion awareness moves into mainstream media, is with a new movie,” Concussion” starring Will Smith opening on Christmas Day. The movie is about a forensic pathologist, played by Will Smith, who discovers neurological deterioration in the brain of a NFL player that is similar to Alzheimer’s disease.  Preliminary reviews of the movie aren’t great, but it’s still a significant step forward in highlighting the issue and influencing change.

It took ten years for the public to believe that smoking was harmful to health, let’s hope it will take far less time for parents and the public to accept that the risk of head injuries is a health hazard for real.


[Parents] Use your Head: Recognizing Concussions in Young Athletes


Parents Watching Youth Football Game

Concussions happen more often, and in more sports than just Football—and it affects the health and well-being of our children. Parents know their children’s behaviour better than anyone and can identify signs of concussion early when they know what to look for.  Today’s post is by guest blogger Eddie Duncan. Eddie writes frequently about youth sports, and shares with us today some key information parents need to know about youth concussions.

Over the past several years there have been an increasing amount of attention around concussions and other traumatic brain injuries in the media.  And it’s not just big head-to-head collisions in the NFL that brings the topic to the forefront.  More and more stories of concussions in young athletes across the country from grade school to high school, have come to surface.

Fortunately, the medical community has given players and coaches’ tools and information necessary to more thoroughly recognize and treat concussion symptoms.  But unfortunately, many programs overlook symptoms to push athletes to perform, or players ignore signs, brushing them off in fear of losing play time or being cut.

Because of this, responsibility ultimately falls on parents to know how to recognize early signs of concussions, beyond the “big hit”.  They are the ones closet to their child and know how they act and behave on a regular basis. Catching symptoms before the young athlete gets back on the field or court can save them from further injury, long-term neurological disorders, paralysis, or worse.

Signs for Parents to Watch
Watching a child take a big hit in a game is nothing easy to swallow for parents, and there’s always a sigh of relief when the child gets up unscathed. But concussions go unseen.  Signs and symptoms can show up immediately or may take hours to be noticed.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says to look out for these signs after a big hit:

  • Difficulty thinking clearly, concentrating, or remembering
  • Feeling slowed down or hazy
  • Headaches or a feeling of pressure
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Balance issues
  • Blurry vision or sensitivity to light
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Irritability, sadness, nervous, or generally more emotional
  • Sleep issues:  too much or too little

More Awareness Benefits Everyone
There is good news.  Over 42 states have passed laws to reduce concussions in youth sports. Many parents have to sign concussion information forms before their child can participate each season.  And many coaches have to attend concussion training sessions and are required to pull athletes from the game if showing any symptoms of brain trauma.  In addition to education on what signs to report, athletes also need to know that it’s okay to miss out on some play today if it means they can play more down the road.

As more awareness develops, more youth will be able to more fully enjoy their favorite sports, more coaches will retain competitive players, and more parents will enjoy seeing their athletes shine.  Remind your players to keep their head in the game, just not literally.

Eddie Duncan is a Senior Editor at Direct2tv and loves to write and research about youth sports.

For more information on how to keep your kids safe visit The Network for Public Health Law and STOP Sports Injuries.

Image Credit: By Chiew Pang, Flickr

Are You Tough Enough? 5 Concussions Later Losing Team Says ‘Yes’

What were they thinking? Apparently no one was in this youth game: not the coaches, referees or parents. In this post I share what happened in the game and what parents can do to create a safe sports environment for their kids.

Are you tough enough is the slogan on Southbridge’s Pop Warner Football league’s site. Apparently this team is tough; tough and rough given that this leagues’ team delivered five concussions to the opposition during a recent game. The injured players were children between the ages of ten and twelve, and the concussions a result of head-on contact during the game. For the record the game was a washout, the losing team, Tantasqua scored 0 points and Southbridge 52.  I share this story because it illustrates all that is wrong with youth sports; how the relentless competitive emphasis, the win at all costs mentality, and the disregard for safety rules puts our kids at risk. When it comes to youth sports, the common sense of many adults seems to be non-existent.

Where’s the Common Sense?
In this game common sense was absent in both teams’ coaches, the referees and parents. The Southbridge coach let the score rack up and did not direct his players to ease up given the obvious mismatch [one of the injuries happened in the 4th quarter]. What happened to the ‘mercy’ rule?

Good sense also eluded the Tantasqua coach, since he allowed the game to continue even after the injuries. And the referees of the game, what were they thinking? Apparently they were not. Parents did not appear to intervene either. According to the article in New York Times, “parents on the losing side of the field wanted their sons to soldier on” (Belson, 2012).  I think what is more disturbing is the fact that parents seem to encourage tackling and hitting in young players even though the league discourages it because of safety.

In June, Pop Warner told its coaches to limit player contact in practices and to eliminate full-speed head-on blocking and tackling drills. Yet on any given Saturday, the rules may be bent or ignored, even by referees under pressure from parents and coaches (Mihoces, 2012).

Film poster for a student created documentary about concussions in youth football.

Fortunately someone did have some common sense, as on October 18th after a hearing the Central Massachusetts Pop Warner league suspended the two coaches for the rest of the season and put them on probation for 2013. Both teams’ presidents were put on probation through 2013. I think the ruling was too lenient. I believe it would be appropriate that both coaches be banned from coaching forever from the league.

Bounty to Hurt Players in Pop Warner
Is this an isolated incident? I would like to think so, but unfortunately it is not. In Orange County there is an investigation underway with one of the coaches of a Pop Warner team who is being accused of paying a ‘bounty’. Cheap shots too, at $20 or $30 a head given by the coach for taking out opposing players (Michoces, 2012).

What can Parents Do?

  • Emphasize the important aspects of sports which is why most of us want our kids to play sports in the first place: good sportsmanship, commitment, activity, learning how to win and lose graciously, and of course fun. Fun is why kids want to play in the first place. Somehow the fun gets lost when along with the common sense.
  • Get involved in creating a safe sports environment. Be aware and vocal about safe practices in sport participation. I cannot emphasize this enough – parents are responsible for their child’s safety – is something doesn’t seem right or safe – STOP it. Speak up, be proactive and help make the game safe and fun.
  • Visit STOP Sports Injuries website, a non-profit organization dedicated to keep kids in the game of life, by providing parents, coaches and teams with resources and tools. They have a resource sheet for almost every youth sport, including football. They have resources for youth athletes, parents and coaches. Click here for the link to the parents resources.
  • Sign-up for the STOP Sports Injuries parent newsletter. It’s a quarterly e-newsletter. I like this organization because they don’t inundate me with emails, but send an excellent newsletter once every three months. Click here to get to the link to sign-up.

Being a parent is tough enough, let’s leave it up to us to be tough, and let the coaches teach other values, all the ‘good’ values that sports participation can instill.

STOP Sports Injuries, Keeping Kids in the Game of Life
Pop Warner Investigates, Suspends Coach, Gary Mihoces, USA Today, October 24, 2012
A 5-Concussion Pee Wee Game Leads to Penalties for the Adults, Ken Belson, NYT, October 23, 2012

Photo Credits:
 I Got You, first image, jedIII’s Photstream, Flickr
Concussions in Football, No Joke, second image, mrmayo’s Photostream, Flickr