Youth football concussions a touchy subject

Is value of tackling sport worth the risk for young participants?

 

Don Heinzman
ECM Columnist

The season for grade-school tackle football turns our attention to the value of that sport and the subject of concussions.

Chances are that most kids grades two through eight playing tackle football won’t suffer a concussion, but the number of such cases is rising.

One national study suggests that 90 percent of grade-school players will not suffer a concussion playing football and 68 percent of those who do suffer a head injury return for the next game.

The number of concussions reported is growing because parents and coaches are more aware of concussions, in part because a Minnesota law passed in 2010 requires that coaches learn more about concussions, their signs and treatment.

Coaches believe that if players have the right equipment and exercise proper tackling techniques, the chances of players suffering concussions are minimal.

All that said, parent Craig A. Hrkal, of Princeton, saw his seventh-grader and an opponent collide head-on during a kickoff return. His son fell to the ground and was taken out of the game, which ended his season. Later, he suffered daily headaches and missed some school days.

Hrkal has decided to do something about these football concussions and has formed the Princeton Youth Sports Foundation, which is online at princetonysf.org.

In looking for ways to prevent head injuries, Hrkal found a company that sells a padded cover that fits over the helmet called a “Guardian Cap.” One goal of Hrkal’s foundation is to provide these cushion caps to 100 players from second through sixth grades this season. Hrkal has applied for grants to help pay for the caps.

The question arises: Why allow second- and third-graders to play tackle football at all? Those in favor say these youngsters don’t tackle very hard and their odds of getting a concussion are slim, particularly if they are taught the right way to tackle.

On the other hand, medical experts are becoming more concerned regarding head injuries and their effect on the brain. David King, executive director of Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance, says extra protection is good, but he doubts if it can completely prevent a concussion. The best prevention is to avoid those hard hits, because they can cause the brain, which floats in fluid, to be pushed against the solid surface of the skull.

Meanwhile, coaches of grade-level football say all this talk about concussions is taking a toll on the number of parents who let their kids play football. Parents would be wise to talk to their children’s coaches and determine how well they teach tackling and how aware they are of signs of concussions and their treatment.

This month at Princeton, young football players will be wearing those padded covers over their helmets. The verdict on the pads is still out, but it’s worth a try, and parents and coaches will be watching.

Don Heinzman is a member of the ECM Publishers Editorial Board. 

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