A Concussion Epidemic?

youth football concussions 2Over the past few weeks, my Facebook news feed has lit up with news of friends’ children suffering concussions due to football, including these highlights:

“Just back from Children’s Hospital. Concussion. Out of football for 2 weeks!”

“Mild concussion. Sidelined for a week. Could have been worse.”

“Got that sickening call from the Athletic Trainer tonight…my son has a concussion.”

Then comes this doozy out of Massachusetts: five 10-year-old boys received concussions in a single Pop Warner football game! After a hearing that resulted in suspensions for all the adults involved the game—coaches, refs, and even other parents—one of the coaches is quoted as saying, “My team is not dirty. All the issues were on their side of the field. This is a football game, not a Hallmark moment.” Oh, and did I mention that the banner on that team’s league website asks, “Are You Tough Enough?” Brilliant!

I know that concussions are not just limited to football and can occur in all sports—and even outside of sports—but it certainly seems that they are happening with greater frequency than ever before. And when I read about bounty programs in youth football, I can’t contain myself. It’s clear that something more than “guidelines” are needed to protect our children’s brains.

USA Football, the sport’s governing body in the United States, has put together a well-thought-out program called “Heads Up Football” to teach young players—and their parents and coaches—how to tackle correctly, thereby reducing the risk of concussion. The organization has also developed – in conjunction with leading healthcare and football experts – a four-step process to teaching the correct way to play tackle football, based on players’ ages and skills. What’s more, USA Football has followed the NFL’s lead in recommending limited to no physical contact in practices – as has the NCAA at the college level and the NHFS at the high school level.

After reading that, many of you will probably think, “That’s great! Sounds like the problem is solved.” Unfortunately, that’s far from the truth. Why? Because youth football leagues – including the Pop Warner league mentioned above – can choose to follow these guidelines. Or they can choose not to follow them.

While many coaches do put safety first, too many still do not, focusing on winning above everything. And although many states have passed concussion regulations based on Washington State’s Lystedt Law, that only governs what coaches and leagues do after a child suffers a concussion. Clearly, “When in doubt, sit them out” is a step in the right direction, I think more needs to be done to prevent concussions from occurring in the first place.

I think it’s time to take the power of choice out of the equation and turn some of these safety guidelines into hard and fast rules that leagues – and coaches – must follow. Too many children’s brains are still at the mercy of others who don’t have their best interests at heart. It’s time to stop the concussion epidemic.

What do YOU think should be done to stem this frightening tide? Do you think ‘safety training’ for coaches is enough or do youth sports leagues and parents need to go further to prevent concussions? I’d like to hear what you think!

Emily Cohen is a freelance writer living in Berkeley, California. An avid tennis player and swimmer, Emily has a son who plays high school baseball and a daughter who plays Class I soccer and middle school volleyball. She has been a team manager for a number of her children’s sports teams. You can find Emily’s blog about team management and youth sports parenting here at blog.teamsnap.com. Follow her on Twitter at @emilygcohen or email her at [email protected]

Image source: flickr (JamieL.WilliamsPhoto)

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