Whether it’s because more kids actually are suffering from concussions, parents and coaches are getting better at recognizing the symptoms of and reporting more concussions, or some combination of the two, there is little doubt that the number of reported concussions in youth sports is on the rise. According to ClearedtoPlay.org, “Concussion rates more than doubled among students age 8-19 participating in sports like basketball, soccer and football between 1997-2007.” And while better equipment can help keep kids safer overall, Dr. Cynthia Stein of Boston Children’s Hospital said in a New York Times article that, ““We love helmets and mouth guards; they protect your skull and your teeth. But they won’t stop a concussion from happening.”
So if equipment can’t protect youth athletes and prevent concussions what can sports parents, coaches, and leagues due to protect young players? Well some advocates are suggesting that full contact in sports like football and hockey be banned until players are at least 14. Dr. Robert Cantu, a Boston neurosurgeon, says kids under 14 should not be allowed to play tackle football. He also recommends that hockey players under 14 not be allowed to do full-body checks. He says that young brains are especially susceptive to the long-term damage caused by concussions. Many experts are also concerned about second-impact syndrome, which happens when a player is hit a second time when they aren’t fully recovered from their first concussion. Even a light bump can have fatal consequences.
Back in February Bronx assemblyman Michael Benedetto introduced legislation in New York state to prohibit children 10-and-younger from playing organized tackle football, the first such proposal in the country. A similar bill was proposed in the Illinois State House of Representatives in March, one that would limit tackling in youth-football practices to no more than once per week. Many Pop Warner and high school football advocates called these bills a knee-jerk reaction and neither bill passed.
While some sports parents are in favor of banning full contact for younger kids, many worry that upping the age to 14 means players will miss out on developing fundamental skills that are essential for playing in high school and beyond. Many coaches argue that one of the best ways to prevent concussions is to teach football and hockey players how to hit (and take a hit) properly so they know what to do to best protect themselves. Other parents say banning (or restricting) full contact in youth sports is nothing more than proof of the “wussification” of America.
Obviously we as sports parents, coaches, and administrators want to do everything possible to keep our youth athletes safe. That’s why it’s so important you educate yourself about the symptoms of a concussion and be careful not to dismiss even a light blow to the end. Just because a player remains conscious that doesn’t mean serious damage wasn’t done! If you think a player might be suffering from a concussion it’s important you pull them off the field immediately and not let them return to play until they have been cleared by a doctor. But even with the best precautions accidents do happen and kids will suffer from concussions.