Ever since US Soccer published their guidelines for limiting heading in Youth Soccer, the spotlight has burned brighter regarding the risk of brain injury associated with repetitive head trauma. Statistics have shown that High School Football participation decreased from 2008 to 2012. High profile cases of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), including Junior Seau and the early proactive retirement of Chris Borland have helped bring this issue to forefront. Is all this publicity decreasing the participation rates of kids in American football?
The NFL is currently battling their own issues with the suicides of Junior Seau & Dave Duerson plus the autopsy results of confirmed CTE found in Hall of Fame Players Kenny Stabler & Frank Gifford. Other notable players have publicly stated they suffer from CTE such as Tony Dorsett and Jim McMahon. All of the recent information points to a negative effect of chronic trauma to the head. Some NFL players such as Chris Borland have decided to retire because of the risk of long term brain injury associated with football. The potential long term risk of CTE is now more public, leading some to speculate this may be affecting youth participation. According to National Federation of State High School Associations, Football participation has decreased from 2008 thru 2012. Concussion rates in high school football are the highest compared to other sports by a large margin. ESPN reported that Pop Warner participation decreased by nearly 10% over a two year period.
Are parents becoming more involved and pushing kids away from football?
Does this signal the end of football?
Whether you are a fan of American Football or not, the Sport is dominant at the youth level, high school level, college level and professional level. The NFL is the most powerful Sports league in the US and dwarfs other sports such as Basketball, Baseball, Soccer and Hockey. The sport isn’t going anywhere.
What can be done to ensure the safety of young kids? Youth is where preventative measures have been focused. Kids are more susceptible to injury than adults. Programs to increase the awareness of concussions have been emphasized with better education of coaches, parents and trainers. Concussion protocols have been developed and many youth soccer and football leagues require concussion training for their coaches. The hope is that better awareness and proper training can decrease the risk to our kids.
US Soccer in 2015 published guidelines banning heading in kids younger than 10 years of age. Heading is to be limited to practice only for the age ranges of 11-13. After 13 (high school age), heading can be performed as needed. The hope of these guidelines is to protect the immature brain from repetitive head trauma especially between the ages of 10-12 when the brain is changing.
Ultimately, only time will tell whether these changes lead to less concussions and fewer incidences of CTE. However, any thought that football is at risk is unrealistic.
-Dr. Paul Saiz
Las Cruces, New Mexico