Do you have a child who loves nothing more than tackling anything that walks?
Although this isn’t always great for your child’s friends or siblings (or your unsuspecting dog), it could be a sign your kid is destined to play football.
But before you send your child off to tryouts, you should know about the high risk of concussions that accompany America’s favorite sport.
A concussion is a typically mild form of brain injury, usually caused by a blow to the head.
Concussions can have immediate effects on an athlete’s brain functioning, like confusion, lack of coordination, or a headache. But sometimes the effects of a concussion take several days to show up.
Tackle football is one of the most dangerous youth sports for concussions. The reason why is probably obvious: high-impact tackling is a great way to get a serious blow to the head.
Rates of concussions in National Football League (NFL) players have been on the rise. Even with the professionals, only about 50% of concussions are ever even detected or reported.
Although some concussions may not require doctor treatment. more serious concussions could end up needing a lifetime of treatment. And these medical bills could cost anywhere from $85,000 to $3 million.
So why are concussions so prevalent in football, and what can you do to protect your natural footballer as a parent?
Why are concussions so prevalent in football?
One of the aspects of football that makes it so exciting is also what makes it so dangerous: football is a high-impact sport.
Helmets protect the skull itself from bumps and bruises. But during hard tackles or helmet-to-helmet collisions, the impact can be enough to cause the brain to slam against the inside of the skull itself.
Football isn’t the only sport in which concussions can happen. But the traditional culture of football may encourage boys to play hard and ignore injuries.
This type of encouragement can lead to harder hits and untreated concussions, which can lead to serious health consequences for players down the road.
The consequences of concussions for professional football players
The good news is that football culture is adapting as more and more research shows the danger of concussions. But even so, change is slow.
Over the last decade, the NFL has begun to recognize the links between repeated concussions and depression, dementia, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which is a disease that causes degeneration of the brain.
A 2017 study found that of 111 deceased NFL players who allowed their brains to be studied after death, 110 had CTE. That’s a rate of 99%. With the spotlight on concussions issues in the NFL, the culture within youth football has also been changing.
The CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics have updated recommendations to increase options for non-contact football and to have athletic trainers at games and practices.
As a parent, there are also precautions you can take to help protect your child from concussions when they hit the pitch.
The effect of concussions in children
Reports show that 2 out of every 10 high school athletes who play contact sports suffers from a concussion every year. And the younger the child, the more serious the lasting health effects may be.
A new study found that children who play tackle football before the age of 12 are more likely to have “behavioral and cognitive problems later in life than those who started later.”
Your child’s brain goes through a lot of important changes and development from the ages of 10 and 12. As a result, it’s more sensitive and more susceptible to long-term negative effects from blows the head.
How to prevent concussions in football
Here are a few important ways you can help prevent concussions for your football player and the whole team, too.
1) Talk to the coach
A lot of responsibility for concussion risks falls on who’s in charge of the team.
Does your child’s coach encourage your child’s team to play by the rules and to be aware of injuries, or do they encourage overly-aggressive play?
An unsafe and overly-aggressive play could lead to a higher risk of a concussion for your child and their teammates. Talk to your coach and see what they’re doing to encourage safe play and good sportsmanship to protect your player.
2) Check in on practice
Practices can be just as dangerous as games when it comes to impacts to your child’s head.
Watch your child’s practice and look for the following safety precautions:
- Are all the rules being followed?
- Are all the kids wearing the appropriate protective gear?
- Do you see a lot of high impact hits to players’ heads?
- Is the coach encouraging good sportsmanship?
If your child’s coach doesn’t seem to be receptive to these safety precautions, it may be time to talk to the coach or seek out a safer team for your child to join.
3) Wear protective gear
This one goes without saying — your child should always wear their helmet before they step onto the field. But although helmets help to protect your child’s skull, they can’t always lessen the impact on your child’s brain.
To try and bridge this safety gap, there are some “anti-concussion” devices on the market that are designed to help minimize the risk of a concussion. For example, head-impact sensors are a tool that can help you and your child’s coach understand the frequency and intensity of blows to your child’s head.
But while this device may be helpful in lowering risk, it isn’t fool-proof. Even smaller blows to your child’s head can still lead to serious conditions like brain disease in the future.
4) Report concussions
Boys are less likely to tell anyone if they are experiencing concussion symptoms. But reporting concussions can be a powerful way to bring awareness to the serious risk they pose to football players.
Talk to your child know about the symptoms of concussions, and that they should tell you and your coach if they experience any of them.