Should I be Worried about Concussions in Football?

The hottest topic of debate around tackle football is head injuries and – specifically – concussions in football. It has reached the point where even the word concussion is enough to scare a parent towards flag football and away from tackle football. Football coaching has significantly changed to prevent head contact in practices, with physical drills like the once ubiquitous Oklahoma Drill falling out of the coaching manual altogether.

In this piece we will look at some of the elements surrounding concussion and tackle football. We will look at what exactly a concussion is and then also the benefits of playing tackle football – with the right football coaching – at the youth level.  Texas Children’s Hospital MD Kristin Ernest is a proponent of this move toward coaching tackle technique that will allow tackle football to thrive at the youth level.

This should give parents more information about if and when they want them to play tackle football. At that point it will be time to think about the different options as to what is the right football league for your child.

What is a concussion?

A concussion is defined by The Mayo Clinic as “a traumatic brain injury that affects your brain function. Effects are usually temporary but can include headaches and problems with concentration, memory, balance and coordination.”

The Mayo Clinic goes on to note how concussions can sometimes cause a loss of consciousness but this is rare. It also points out how it is not just a direct blow to the head that can cause a concussion. They can also be caused by “violently shaking of the head and upper body.”

The most common cause of a concussion according to the clinic is through falls. While it doesn’t mention what causes the falls, many are due to either old age or a slip/trip and fall over an object. The aspect that parents of kids wanting to get into tackle football to note is that concussions are more common if a kid plays a contact sport as opposed to a sport with limited or zero contact.

This sport could be tackle football, but it is also worth considering that concussions also happen with some regularity in sports such as rugby, soccer, and basketball. Boxing is another sport where the concussion risk is obvious. These sports will continue to have a higher risk of concussion than sports such as golf, tennis, or volleyball no matter what rules are implemented to reduce incidents that lead to a concussion.

It is important to know the symptoms of a concussion. This is especially true if your child is playing tackle football – or another sport – and is involved in an incident that resulted in a blow to the head. This checklist of concussion symptoms isn’t exhaustive, but it is a good start to seek more specific information on if your child has a concussion and what to do about it.

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Ringing in the ears and blurred vision
  • Confusion and dizziness
  • Repeatedly asking the same question
  • Loss of memory
  • Slurred speech

If your child is acting like they could be drunk (check the symptoms above again) then the chances are that they have some level of concussion. Concussions should not be seen as trivial – the prevalence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in retired NFL players shows what can happen from repeated blows to the head with no recovery period in place – and good football coaching will involve some form of return to play protocol before a child is allowed back on the field.

This has been proven as studies suggest up to 30% of all concussion patients are then affected by post-concussion syndrome.

Benefits of Tackle Football

The risk of concussion is one factor to consider when deciding if your child should stick to flag football or move to tackle. There are, however, many positive benefits to your child strapping on the pads and playing full tackle. Here are some things to think about on the opposite side of the scales when weighing up risk versus reward:

  • Health Benefits – Playing a physically demanding sport like tackle football comes with a slew of health benefits. These go from basic physical positives like increased cardiovascular endurance and blood flow, lowering body fat, and improving aerobic capacity, all the way through to refining fine motor skills such as hand-eye coordination.
  • Teamwork – Working in a team is essential in life. It is also essential in football. Every player is accountable for their actions as 11 players work as a unit towards a common goal. This is as obviously transferable a life skill as you will ever see and seeing your kid function and excel as part of a team is joyous.
  • Work Ethic – The more competitive the level, the more demanding the work ethic. Practices can be hard and arduous. Offseason conditioning is a challenge. Kids will learn how to work hard to get their payoff of a starting spot.
  • Physical and Mental Toughness – This goes along with work ethic. The physical toughness is obvious. A 60 minute game involves an untold number of collisions and kids will learn so much about their body and resilience. Mental toughness is harder to predict, but if a kid can recover after making a bad play, stepping up and overcoming to succeed, well, that is just another life lesson taught.
  • Friendship – Socialization not isolation is huge in a world where kids can spend hours playing video games in their bedroom alone. Football friendships are forged in battle and real world friendships will always trump online friends.

Concussions in tackle football are something that every parent will worry about to some degree. Your kids are your everything and the balance between keeping them safe and letting them have fun is a delicate one. Nothing will mitigate concussions out of tackle football, but the risk to your child can be lowered by helping them develop the correct and safest way to tackle (and be tackled).

The resources on this page – when used correctly – will make you worry less about concussions for your child as you will know they have been shown the correct way to use their pads, tackle with their shoulders, and where to put their head to reduce their injury risk.

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