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SOUND OFF: Is Youth Football Too Dangerous?

Central Mass. Pop Warner has banned two youth coaches after five kids (ages 10-12) reportedly received concussions.

The suspension of coaches and officials involved in a Pop Warner football game that resulted in multiple concussions has drawn attention to youth football.

In what the Boston Globe called "an alarming case of young athletes being put at risk," five children suffered concussions last month in a Pop Warner football game between teams in the Southbridge and Sturbridge area. 

In the game, which ended with a Southbridge Pee-Wee team beating Tantasqua 52-0, the mercy rules were not enforced and at least one boy suffered a concussion on a play that should have been ruled dead, the Globe reported.

The coaches of both teams were suspended for the season, and the league's presidents were placed on probation. In addition, the three officials who worked the game have been permanently banned.

and the national's largest youth football organization, Pop Warner Little Scholars, established rules in 2010 aimed at reducing brain injuries caused by concussions.

The Southbridge/Tantasqua game, however, raises questions about the enforceability of those regulations.

What can, or should, youth leagues do to reduce the risk of injury among athletes? Do you think youth football is dangerous? If you are a parent or coach of a player, what do you do to minimize risk to your players?

Avon Barksdale October 22, 2012 at 08:20 PM
Joe, you may be interested in this article: http://www.sportsconcussions.org/ibaseline/unexpected-youth-football-impact-data-pbs-video.html "Common sense has led many to believe that youth football players can't possibly sustain high-impacts like their adult counterparts. But veteran correspondent Stone Phillips' report "Hard Hits, Hard Numbers," features researchers at Virginia Tech (VT) who recently turned that theory upside down when they analyzed impact data from the helmets of 7- and 8-year old players in Montgomery County, Virginia. Accelerometers placed inside seven helmets wirelessly transmitted data to scientists on the sideline for a season's worth of practices and games, with surprising results. The bottom line? Maybe it's time to take another look at practices, drills, and helmet design to minimize the forces absorbed during an average season. Regardless of the significance of the impact, none of the players sustained concussions during the season. Therein lies an enduring mystery, why small impacts can cause concussions in some players while others walk away from big hits."
Dave Lenane October 22, 2012 at 08:35 PM
Just more "Let's treat our kids like fine china" philosophy. The simple truth of the matter is that kids have the same EXACT chance of receiving a traumatic head injury playing soccer as they do football. It's FACT not opinion.But of course Football gets a bad rap out here where the liberals roam. Protect your kids absolutely! Should parents have a say to make sure the coach is competent in the sport? Definitely! But all youth sports teach kids qualities and values they will need later on in life. And don't even get me started on the "Everyone gets a trophy" philosophy. By all means kids need to be protected! No question, no doubt and no argument. But to even try and argue that youth football is any more dangerous that other sports is foolish. Kids get hurt, it sucks. Marc Savard just stated today that he may never return to hockey, but he still wants kids to play. Wow...he sounds sensible!
Avon Barksdale October 22, 2012 at 08:54 PM
Your facts are not facts, and your weak attempt to politicize this demonstrates why changing the situation will be next to impossible. Youth football is an injury factory and arguing that it is either less dangerous or only just as dangerous as other sports is the ignorant, head in the sand position. It's possible to be in favor of the sport of football and in favor of kids being safer, sorry if years of head trauma have clouded your ability to see nuances.
Joe Kane October 22, 2012 at 09:00 PM
Avon - I saw this article when it first came out. I was coaching youth football at the time. I had already incorporated low-hit count practices because I had seen how many kids, both youth football and high school got hurt during practice. And this study does show that the number of high/heavy impacts decrease dramatically down to just a few instances out of the hundreds recorded. What they don't tell you was "what were they doing at the time of the impact". Was it a "controlled" drill that was stupid to be doing, or was it "unavoidable contact" where two kids collided and never saw the other one coming. When my father started the Natick Junior Redmen back in 1967 he put a huge emphasis on safety at a time when no one was talking about it. He enlisted a lot of Police and Firemen who were training in medical trauma. They understood it and could recognize it. It rubbed off on me when I started to coach. There is nothing in the world as football for sports satisfaction as a player, but do it smart!
Dave Lenane October 22, 2012 at 09:04 PM
Really? A man ( I suppose) who names himself after a Baltimore drug dealer should be the one to speak on behalf of parents and kids on this subject? And although Lance Armstrong is a disgraced athlete, the foundation he created verifies my point! http://www.livestrong.com/article/348510-soccer-head-injuries/ It's called the Internet Avon...get off the corners in the projects and take a look at it! There are many MANY studies that back my argument1
Dave Lenane October 22, 2012 at 09:09 PM
http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/soccer.html
Dave Lenane October 22, 2012 at 09:14 PM
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/29/frequent-heading-tied-wit_n_1118610.html
Joe Kane October 22, 2012 at 09:27 PM
Dave - Being smart about safety in a hard hitting sport is not trying to treat your kids like they are "fine china". Football, like many other sports, get bad raps of any kind when the foolish try to run things! Coaches who don't know what they are doing, or are using methods that have been proven to cause more damage to these kids. Because in some instances, the kids do break like fine china. And what do you tell his/her parents when that happens??!! Youth sports require balance because the kids that participate at these young levels are at very different stages of development. A 9 year old is much more further developed than a 7 year old. But a 21 year old college player is not much further along that his 19 year old opponent. Having coached in Pop Warner, and now had a chance to see these teams that are segregated by grade, I see much less of a separation in skills. The weight issue is a bit of a concern though.
Dave Lenane October 22, 2012 at 09:27 PM
http://www.infosports.com/football/arch/1686.htm
Dave Lenane October 22, 2012 at 09:33 PM
Joe, the point I was trying to make is that Football is not the "all dangerous" sport it is made out to be. There are just as many, if not more injuries in other sports, with soccer more than leading the way. The "fine china" comment was to parents who think they want their kids to play a "Safe" sport like...umm Soccer! Kids get hurt, it sucks! Kids get Really Really hurt, and that sucks even more. But football is NOT the only cause of head injuries in youth sports. Why arent soccer players wearing helmets?
Joe Kane October 22, 2012 at 09:40 PM
Avon - Part of the reason that Milford Pop Warner left Pop Warner is that they had old guidelines for Weight and Age that never followed the trend of the size of kids playing in the U.S. When some of our League Officials used to try and convince everyone that Pop Warner was where the high school players were being groomed and would be the foundation of a future varsity team, I just laughed. More than half of the kids that started at age 7 or 8 had dropped out either because they weren't playing much (even with minimum play rules) and a few more that made it to Freshmen Football never went on to JV or Varsity because they were too small. Roughly 20% of the kids that started at the lower levels went on to play Varsity. They didn't want to hear or believe the numbers because they were focused on the few gifted athletes who stayed with the program from start to finish. And then when you look at Freshmen Football more than 1/2 of those kids never played organized football prior to that team. And the two coaches were assigned to that team were overwhelmed because they had to teach all of these kids even the basics of terminology and skill. These were the kids that were too big for Pop Warner. But they were also the most likely to play varsity football when they grew up. American Youth Football recognized that gap and presents a program that allows more of these kids to participate at the youth level prior to going to high school.
Joe Kane October 22, 2012 at 09:45 PM
Geez Dave.... Here I was thinking he was from Avon!! How smart am I??!! Too many head shots as a player!!
Mary MacDonald (Editor) October 22, 2012 at 09:55 PM
Keep the name calling out of this otherwise interesting discussion, thanks.
Dave Lenane October 22, 2012 at 10:09 PM
Mary...Can I ask what name calling? Avon Barksdale IS a fictional drug dealer in HBO's "The Wire" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avon_Barksdale
Mary MacDonald (Editor) October 23, 2012 at 12:15 AM
I get that. Just keep the comments focused on the issue, the article, not each other.
Avon Barksdale October 23, 2012 at 11:49 AM
Dave that's a super point - some injuries occur in other sports, so ignore the realities of football injuries and call everyone who wants to see changes a sissy. And yeah, actually, soccer should also change to match the research - but the jury's out on whether headgear, mouthguards, a ban on headers before a certain age, or some combination of factors will make a significant difference. And so glad to see you took the time to google "Avon Barksdale," perhaps you missed the part that says he's a fictional character. I watched "The Wire" with my daughters, it was tremendous entertainment and provided a great jumping off point for conversations and learning. You should look into it. I will say this - football is NOT the most dangerous sport, that would be cheerleading, which is almost completely unregulated and leads to more traumatic injuries (particularly knee, head and neck) than any other athletic activity.
Dave Lenane October 23, 2012 at 02:27 PM
Avon...I agree with you. My feelings are fine. I just don't feel the answer to this issue is to ban youth football. If we were to do that, then soccer would need a serious look too. Education and certification of coaches, widening the fields should be looked at. And Ben had a good suggestion of no down linemen. Kids get hurt...it is horrible.
Jesse dimick October 23, 2012 at 02:55 PM
Hello everyone, Just wanted to share a couple of informational websites for this hot topic. Although we are much further long with how we diagnose and treat concussions we are still far from a definitive answer of how to deal with these injuries. The unknown is what makes people so passionate about this. One thing we can contribute the increased concussion rates to in this age group is that we are better educated to identifying the symptoms. Unfortunately unlike orthopedic injuries concussions carry no external scars or bruising. Appreciate all the feedback given above. http://www.momsteam.com/health-safety/concussion-safety http://theconcussionblog.com/ http://www.sportsconcussion.net/
Micah Mashburn October 23, 2012 at 03:16 PM
I'm a senior in High School and this is my first year playing football. I'm not a starter, but I start on special teams and am the #2 reciever. We're a 3A school and our undefeated this season. I grew up playing club soccer, and have had two concussions from it. I think kids should play flag football till their freshman year. Then after that full-contact is fine.... I came in knowing NONE of the techniques or language, (and i'm not bragging) but I've earned a pretty good spot just by being a hard worker and natural athlete. My point in this is kids don't need to be playing full contact when their in 6th grade. They'll have the same skill level in High School if they play flag as they would if they went full contact.
Dave Lenane October 23, 2012 at 04:32 PM
Idea....High School players that suffer a concussion are done for the year. Two in 2 years and you would be finished for high school.
Avon Barksdale October 23, 2012 at 08:05 PM
And I think we have some common ground. If you look back at what I said, I never suggested that youth football should be banned. I just feel that for me, personally, I would never choose to sign a permission slip to allow my child to play. Hell, I'm in favor of Freedom Of Just About Anything, if you want your kid to do Youth Ninja Base Jumping then go right ahead and sign him up, see if I care. But I reserve the right to think someone who does so is an idiot.
Avon Barksdale October 23, 2012 at 08:07 PM
Mary, I will politely state that if you are looking to establish orderly, interesting online discussions, being heavy-handed and removing comments that are critical of yourself yet relevant to the conversation is NOT the way.
Avon Barksdale October 23, 2012 at 08:12 PM
Interesting concept, but current technologies make it impractical. Who defines what constitutes a "concussion," you can't run a brain scan on every kid who gets hit in the head, and simple memory tests can only suggest concussion rather than diagnose. Even the computerized IMPACT testing that's in use in many schools provides a guideline for potential concussion risk management, rather than a clear-cut determination that a player is concussed. Hard cases make bad law, and trying to screen kids out based on a specific level of brain trauma/lesions is a hard case indeed.
Mary MacDonald (Editor) October 23, 2012 at 08:30 PM
Point taken. Thanks for being civil.
Joe Kane October 24, 2012 at 12:59 AM
Avon - You plainly said that Kids should not play football until they are Freshmen in High School. That essentially eliminates Youth Football from their experience. Which is it?
Avon Barksdale October 24, 2012 at 12:50 PM
Joe, I am sorry that nuance eludes you. I don't believe that kids should play football before high school. I also don't believe that kids should cheerlead, ever, that anyone should ever be subjected to onions, or that they should watch anything on the Lifetime Movie Network. Just because I don't believe something should be done doesn't mean it should be eliminated as a choice for everyone. That philosophy is ingrained in a little document I like to call "The Constitution Of The United States of America," perhaps you should look into it.
Joe Kane October 25, 2012 at 05:08 PM
Avon - your overall attitude in participating in this conversation has diminished your validity on the subject. Please find another playground to try out your bully routine!
Dave Lenane October 25, 2012 at 08:15 PM
Joe, the people across the aisle need to have their say. He's wrong and its been shown, but let him have his fun.
Mr. Nibbles October 25, 2012 at 08:48 PM
Football for youngsters should be limited soley to computer games. This will insulate them from any possible injury, as well as exercise, fresh air and sunshine. This should be the new normal. Everyone knows that.
Dave Lenane October 25, 2012 at 09:02 PM
The next argument will be the "Why are my kids so obese?" argument. Parents need to be parents. If you don't want your son or daughter playing football, the good for you! If you are a parent that will allow it, then I'm hoping you will be responsible enough to look out for his/her welfare. By all means if the coach seems like someone who's seen way to many sports movies, be afraid and get involved. At the same time rule changes need to be applied to make the game safer. I'm all for limiting the amount of physical contact in all youth sports. Kids don't need to know the difference between a Cover 2 and a Man Under defense at ten years old. And I'm pretty sure Billy or Molly don't need to be lining up shotgun with 5 Wides. Before we talk about banning any youth sport, sensible people (I didn't say me) need to try and figure out any way possible to not ban a youth sport. Play 60 Kids! Put down the controller there's a whole world out there!

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