Are we heading toward a future of no childhood sports?


Could empty fields be the future of youth sports?
Could empty fields be the future of youth sports?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been hearing some extreme solutions in reply to the increased awareness of concussions in youth football. From special helmets that claim to reduce the chances of concussions to a politician’s recent proposal for an all-out ban on tackle football for kids 11 and younger, head injuries in football have become a heated topic for discussion.

And it’s about time.

Pediatric concussions are nothing new. I guarantee generation after generation of kids have suffered from concussions out on the football field and most of the time it probably went unnoticed by their coach or parents or they were told to “shake it off.” But is legislation to ban tackle football the right call?

New York Assemblyman Michael Benedetto thinks his proposed bill to delay tackle football until a child is 12 will protect the children. But with some medical professionals saying kids shouldn’t play tackle football until 14 years of age and Pop Warner offering tackle leagues at five years old, I’m getting mixed messages.

With the uncertainty I’m seeing from professionals and leaders on when kids should play tackle football, I’m coming to realize there is no hard and fast answer. What I do know is denying children the opportunity to play tackle football (and taking away parents’ rights to decide what is best for their children) is not the solution.

According to SafeKids USA, biking is actually the leading cause of head injuries for children under 14. What kind of parents would we be if we denied our children the same exhilaration we experienced while coasting down a hill on our bikes on a breezy summer day? Not to mention, the leading sport of head injuries for girls is soccer. So what are we going to do, put all of our country’s children in a big plastic bubble until we think it’s safe enough for them to come out?

I said it once, and I’ll say it again: we need to focus on education to help prevent and identify injuries. Many states are adopting concussion policies requiring at least coaches – and at most parents and children as well – to go through concussion training on the signs of concussion with an emphasis on taking a child out  of play and into the care of medical professionals if there is even an inkling of suspicion that the kid has a head injury. Similar measures are in place for 42 states plus the District of Columbia. (While most of these policies focus on high school sports, there is a huge need for similar policies in youth sports, and we’ll delve into that more another time.)

The bottom line is kids are going to get hurt while exploring and learning about this world. There’s no way around it. If it’s not from a head injury playing a sport, it could be a broken bone from falling out of a tree. The more education and awareness we have about injuries, the less ignorance there will be. And that’s how we protect them.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the National Alliance for Youth Sports.

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