I recently posted a blog about errant comments made in the sports media regarding concussion. After my sister read the post, she had a very valid question about contact sports in kids. Specifically, “How does an uneducated parent know what is safe for their young kids in sports?” She wanted to know if there is any way to determine how much contact is too much in youth sports. The answer to that? I don’t know. There is no good answer for that right now, unfortunately. However, here is what we do know:
Kids should be managed more cautiously than adults.
Kids may take longer to recover after concussion.
Kids’ brains are still developing, which may affect their short- and long-term recovery.
No protective equipment of any kind or cost can prevent concussion.
The long-term effects of multiple head injuries can be devastating – depression, anxiety, decreased reaction time, cognitive impairment, emotional lability, and so on.
Interestingly, a recent study out of Virginia Tech earlier this year investigated the level of impact sustained by youth football players (age 7-8) with the same technology used in studies with older subjects; it was the first study of its kind with youth subjects. Contrary to Derrick Mason’s comments, the study found that although these kids have a lesser body mass and play at slower speeds, they still sustained high magnitude impacts – impacts similar in magnitude (80 g!) to those in high school and college football. It also found that the higher impacts were sustained during practices, not in games like at the high school and college level. The frequency of said impacts occurred less frequently in youth football, but nonetheless, they still occurred. The results of this study prompted Pop Warner president Jon Butler to propose a rule change: limit the amount of contact drills to 1/3 of all practice time. Interestingly, after perusing the Pop Warner website, I was unable to find mention of said rule change. The website does make it very clear, however, that in Pop Warner there is an “absence of catastrophic injuries” and that the injury rate is a fraction of that of high school and college football. Well, no kidding! They also play a fraction of the time. That doesn’t mean it’s any less dangerous.
So, back to my sister’s question. Is there a way to determine if contact sports are safe for her kids? There is not. This is a tough situation. Even leading experts disagree. Dr. Robert Cantu of Boston University recommends that children under the age of 14 not play sports such as football, lacrosse, and ice hockey. He also questions whether kids should be heading the ball in soccer. On the other hand, Kevin Guskiewicz, ATC at the Unviersity of North Carolina, disagrees with that recommendation and instead advocates for safer tackling techniques. Clearly, more research is needed in this area. What is not clear is how to help parents make decisions regarding their kids and sports.