This is Republished from 2014- In light of recent deaths and traumatic Injuries I want to advocate once again that we drop tackle football until Age 14- this is an essential step to saving the game.
Concussions, Youth Football, and The Reality Any Parent Must Embrace
It is that time of the year. Football season? Yes. But it is also concussion season. I have been a part of the movement for 8 years now to stop the onslaught of concussions and Traumatic Brain Injuries in youth sports. For those of you that you don’t I founded a group called Brain Champions a few years back and with the help of several families of injured and deceased athletes we took on the task of fighting for mandatory education and training as well as tougher standards and better research. That included work on the topic of CTE which has dominated the NFL discussions these past few years. We also worked and continue to work on issues surrounding practice protocols, mandatory Certified Athletic Trainers on every field, and requiring cognitive baseline testing like ImPACT during the off season.
All of these things were driven by 3 funerals I attended for young men who fell on the field and by the the involvement in my life of several who fell but rose again; only after paying a serious price. But even before that one of my own sons had gone down and come back too many times; ultimately loosing his opportunity to play the game past High School and suffering long terms effects of the games worst injury.
Then came the real truth. The years I spent Coaching Youth Football became the biggest part of the dilemma and of the problem. Research now shows that this is the most vulnerable time in a young athletes life. Not just football. Any sport with serious potential for contact and brain injury at a young age, 14 and under in most expert opinions, has the potential to cause irrevocable harm. Harm that will manifest itself immediately in some cases but certainly over time in most.
Think of it like this. You have pitchers who from a young age are watched for their pitch count. That arm will give out and coaches and leagues watch that like clockwork to avoid having the athlete put out for life. That is something the baseball community all adhere too because no one is spared. You throw enough pitches and eventually your number is up and you have thrown your last.
With Football there is no official “Hit Count” although new helmets and accelerometers and I Phone apps are on the way that will do that. But the fact is every athlete has one; an internal hit count. Over time an athlete will likely succumb to injuries and with Concussion or TBI it is a cumulative thing. Understand the athlete will rarely be knocked unconscious. That is very rare. And most blows are in and of themselves not concussive; we call them sub-concussive blows. But science now knows for a fact that the sub-concussive blows can be just as damaging or more then the concussive blows particularly in regards to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE.
CTE is what is killing and debilitating thousands of NFL Veterans. It is the build up of a Protein known as Tau that creates a plaque on the outer surface of the brain which eats away from the outside in at the brain and it’s functions. It is ultimately incurable and can lead to death as well as a long drawn out series of issues.
For Youth K-8 football …
What these repetitive blows that kids get in practice every day and on the field mean is the risk of developing the long term problem. More then likely it will mean dealing with the short term problems more recognized that go along with concussions. Those problems range from memory loss, headaches, dizziness, nausea, impaired motor functions and thought processes to things like long term learning disability and mood swings which may persist for very long periods of times.
The best mind in the world from a research and best medical science standpoint is Doctor Robert Cantu. In his book, and throughout all of his work, he has concluded something that I want you all to think hard about. Because the facts are the facts and in our collective zeal for creating the next “Johnny Football” we are more then likely creating an army of injured athletes.
You… reading this… may be a major culprit in the harm of a young person today and you do not even know it. So read this excerpt below and wake up to the awesome responsibility you have right now.
SL: There are some tackle football leagues that now involve youngsters as early as age 5. How would you advise parents whose son wants to play football: Is there a “safe age” for tackle football?
Robert Cantu: I don’t think parents should bring their kids into tackle football short of high school. And, if their kid is not well developed and doesn’t have secondary sex characteristics — like hair under their arms and so forth — then I’d say wait until their child is 16 or until they do.
The bottom line is, head trauma can come from tackle football at any age. We now know that, very occasionally, youngsters sustain g-forces equal to those at the high school and college level. To me, it’s not appropriate that we’re subjecting their brains to that kind of trauma when the alternative is playing the sport anyway, through flag football, and still learning the skills of tackle football, but practicing those skills on pads and dummies and not getting hit.
The same principal applies to other sports. They should ban heading the ball in soccer below a certain age and ban body checking in youth hockey until the age of 14.
This is a statement of Fact. The man is trying to lead but as he is few are following. Know that I have.
I walked away from Youth Football after almost 15 years having seen too many injuries that ended careers and too many kids showing signs of concussion and these long term issues. Too many Coaches teaching bad technique, hitting everyday all day, and too many red faced spectators and screaming parents egging on their kids to “put him out” etc. .
And I will never go back.
If your Coaching youth football God Bless you. You have the hardest job of all. PLEASE consider your sons and your players and get educated. Think about what you are doing every day at practice. Does it involve hitting? I am pretty sure it does and it probably involves a lot of scrimmaging too.
Understand that a youth player has a brain that has a ton of room between the brain and the skull. When that brain is impacted it is like so much jello in a bowl and it wobbles all over the place both twisting side to side and back and forth and there in lies the issue. The tiny tendrils, fibers that make up your brain, get damaged in this process and axons and other key components of the brain sustain damage not easily repaired. No helmet of any kind can fix that. Only time.
This is what Cantu knows. By about 14 the brain is tight against the skull and these impacts can be better absorbed and lessened to a very high degree.
Ask any football insider or person who really knows what they are talking about and they will for the most part agree. Flag football is the answer to the problem as it will develop the athlete for what is desired by High School Coaches and eliminate most of these dangerous blows that occur in contact youth ball.
No High School Coach is going to take what a kid has done in Youth Football and project that into his thought process as to how he is going to use that same athlete in High School. In 9th grade we start over as coaches. That is when the big boy football starts.
Any of you promoting full contact Youth Football All Star Games and Year Around Leagues are the worst offenders because what you are doing is doubling or tripling the amount of impacts that poor kid is going to take on and you are creating a sense of “Keeping Up With The Joneses” making Mom and Dad want to put their athlete out there even more. You will be held up to terrible scrutiny by legal experts for doing such things if a player is injured and there will be nowhere for you to run. You will be found on the wrong side of best standards and practices – the standards of care you and all of us are now expected to operate under. If you are one of these people, and there are a lot of you out there, stop what you are doing now and think about what you can do to help.
Consider the Future..
If you have a son or daughter playing football at any level and love the game help us to save the sport. See what your team needs in terms of a trainer or baseline testing or maybe just talk with your Athletic Director and trainers about the issues and what plans and protocols they have in place. Work with BrainChampions.org or distribute the Heads Up For Concussion materials in your community. Get your school and players baseline testing with ImPact so if they do get hurt you can help make sure their return is a safe and proper one.
For me Football is a passion. It is and always will be the greatest sport ever invented. But personal experience, education, and the teachings of people like Doctor Robert Cantu are right there for all of us to see. The facts are clear. The solution is Flag Football until 9th grade and I believe that for those of us truly committed to saving the game we best all get on the same page and fast.
The collegiate recruiting world may be putting more and more pressure on kids and parents. But a youth football star may more often then not ever finish as a High School star. This is a statement of Fact. If he does his chances of being recruited are not higher because he was a star as a grade schooler. It will be because he has the size, speed, and athletic prowess in High School that will make him a great High School Player and thus a top college recruit.
Technique can be learned as well out of pads as in pads.
Lastly guys and gals if your coaching youth football or managing a league consider this. In the NFL they hit one day a week. In the off season they are not allowed to hit at all. How many days of your 3 or 4 days of practice do the kids hit? I bet it is every day. Why are you all doing that? Because no one has told you different. In Youth sports we are all told more is better. It simply is not. Learn to teach techniques at 1/2 speed out of pads, play games to develop speed and agility and back off on the hitting. If your hitting more then one day a week not including your game days don’t.
In the end your kids will be healthier, you will win more games, and probably the kids will have more fun. Football is a violent game but it has to be a controlled violence. Hitting for the sake of hitting is bad policy.
Parents do not be sheep. This is your son or daughter. Step up and be educated and think through your options. Your athlete is not going to the NFL or College right now and playing youth football will not get them there either.
Concussions by the way lead to a fracture in the way kids learn and the learning process can actually make a concussion worse. The brain relies on total rest after a concussion to make a comeback. At this point the NCAA is not allowing anyone into the college ranks without a serious GPA so what we are finding is that the big tough kid who can run everyone over but has poor grades is not on anyone’s wish list. This is just yet another argument to keep your student out of contact sports like football until High School. That brain is in the end their best asset and you pushing them or allowing them to jump in at an early age is a mistake; I say that having done it myself. I hold myself responsible to any young person I ever coached for any harm that came to them. I feel like we did it right and had fun stressing technique over hitting but I could have done better. I am trying to do that now.
There- I have said my peace. Now back about your business.