Argus Leader on Dec. 21, 2015.
You will be hearing a great deal about safety in the sport of football with the Christmas release of the movie, “Concussion.”
The movie centers around still-developing scientific research regarding the long-term effects of concussions on football players. Hopefully this will prompt families to engage in discussions about safety in all of youth sports.
Many families will see this movie and wonder if they should let their child play football at all. Obviously, football has been a huge part of my own life, so I am strongly in favor of letting kids play the game. That being said, I also support the ongoing research and efforts to improve player safety and minimize the risks of injury.
Parents have always wrestled with the decision of whether or not to let their kids play football, hockey and other contact sports. If they let their kids play, what age would be the best to begin? Should they have their child play flag football instead of tackle football? What helmet should their child wear? Is the coach teaching correct tackling form? Are the league and officials doing their best to protect kids? Concussions are very serious, and we continue to strive to create a safer game, but are concussions the only safety factor that we need to consider? Should the risk of injury prevent kids from participating in football at all?
Research tells us there are risks to playing football. Science has come a long way in measuring the effects of concussions on athletes in all contact sports. As a result, the sport is evolving to improve fundamentals and training for athletes. While it is impossible to eliminate the risk of injury for athletes in contact sports, there are things we can do to help minimize the risk and still expose our kids to the many benefits of youth sports.
Ultimately, parents need to decide what is acceptable for their athlete. How does a parent do this? Be informed about the risks, and ask questions of the coaches and directors of youth programs.
● Is my child being trained using the newest, safest standards for the sport?
● What kind of training have coaches received on player safety? Is correct tackling technique being worked on every day?
● What is the team protocol if my child is injured during practice or a game?
● What is the coaching philosophy for working with young athletes?
● Is the coach organized and using drills that are incorporated within the structure of practice, or is the coach using hard-hitting drills to waste practice time?
● Are the athletes excited and moving around, rather than standing and listening to someone lecture the entire practice?
● Are all facets of the game being taught in the limited practices? Not just practicing plays, but teaching tackling, blocking, alignment, special teams, etc.
● Is the team atmosphere healthy and focused on learning while having fun?
● Is your athlete physically able to keep up with his/her teammates?
● Is your athlete mentally and physically ready for the things which he/she will be asked to do?
In football, it is critical for kids to learn proper fundamentals for tackling. It is extremely important that their learning coincides with their physical development. This is why many kids start with flag football and progress into tackle football as they develop strength and technique. Adjusting to the use of equipment is necessary and encouraged with young athletes, but all contact should be controlled and limited by coaches until they are confident in the athlete’s skills and comfort level.
Parents can not rush physical development by forcing an athlete into a sport they are not ready to play. The athlete’s lack of ability will be shown physically and mentally, and that is when the risk of injury increases. Flag football allows the athlete to grow and mature, while at the same time becoming confident and mentally prepared to eventually take that next step into tackle football. Communication and trust between parents and coaches is critical to this process.
While much of the conversation from the movie will center on the risk of injury in contact sports, don’t lose sight of other important points of consideration. We all want our kids to experience the many physical and mental benefits of being part of youth sports, and with proper training and support, kids can be involved in football but minimize the risk of serious long-term injury. Be informed about the science and the sport, ask questions about the programs you are considering for your athlete, and ultimately, make the decisions that are the best fit for your family.
I am often asked my opinion on things that involve football. The questions range from how to find which player position best suits a child to who I think will win the Super Bowl, and pretty much everything in between. I have many thoughts on the game, on coaching, and on improving performance, so I am starting Passing Thoughts to share some of those thoughts. I welcome your comments and conversation. –KR