Before You Go - November 2012
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Football Injury Awareness

By Deborah L. Vence

Even with the risk of suffering a concussion, tackle football still is encouraged by many dads who approve of their young sons playing the sport, according to a new survey by i9 Sports, a Brandon, Fla.-based organization that offers youth sports leagues, camps, clinics and after-school programs with a focus on fun, safety and convenience.

"Safety is a top priority at i9 Sports. Reports of sports concussions in the United States have reached an 'epidemic level' and we know that football leads all sports in the occurrence of concussions among youth ages 5 to 18," said Brian Sanders, president and COO of i9 Sports.

A little more than 300 dads were interviewed for the survey that revealed:

  • Nine out of 10 (90 percent) dads who played football at the high school level or higher and suffered, or believe they suffered, a football-related concussion want their kids to play tackle football.
  • Seventy-seven percent of all football-playing dads say tackle football is safe for children under age 12 even though more than three in five of these dads suffered a concussion playing football.
  • Almost half of football player dads say there's too much hype over concussions.

"As the American Academy of Pediatrics believes that young athletes may be more vulnerable than adults to lasting damage from head injuries, we wanted to better understand the role that parents, and specifically dads, play in the choice of tackle football among young kids," Sanders said.

For example, results from the survey showed that dads view tackle football as a safe option for their children under the age of 12, in spite of the fact that three in five dads had experienced a concussion when they played football. More than 61 percent of dads said that their sons play tackle football, while 24.7 percent stated "not yet, but he will play." Only 14 percent indicated that they prefer their sons to play a different sport.

In addition, when asked whether or not they would allow their son to play tackle football again following a concussion, once the injury healed, 64.9 percent of dads stated "yes," while 35.1 percent said "no."

"We want to educate parents on the risks of playing tackle football at a young age and urge them to think about safer alternatives like flag football until their child is more physically developed," Sanders said.

Regardless of the statistics, tackle football still is deeply rooted in the country's cultural identity.

"This is a case in which parents' judgment about what is appropriate for their children may be clouded by cultural tradition, even in the face of the facts. One of the startling results of the survey was that over half of the dads surveyed said kids who play tackle sometimes think getting a concussion is 'cool,' or a 'a status symbol,'" Sanders said.

"We believe that the prevailing hyper level of competition in youth sports today is greatly driven by dads who are living vicariously through their kids. In many respects, youth sports have become adult sports played by kids," he said.

The number-one reason why kids play sports is to have fun. However, they often are faced with parental pressure to perform or complete at a level that is not age-appropriate.

"Competition is natural and healthy, but unbridled parental pressure can lead to both physical and psychological injury to children," he said. "i9 Sports wants to dispel the myth that injuries are a natural and acceptable consequence of playing youth sports. Our goal is to educate both children and their parents about the importance of safe play. However, we want to do more than just educate."

That's why the mission of i9sports is to help kids succeed in life through sports.

"So, beyond our desire to educate, we want to provide programs that foster healthy, safe play regardless of the chosen sport," Sanders said.

The fact is the best way to prevent young children from being injured in football is to delay the age at which children play tackle until they are physically developed. Flag football, for instance, offers the benefits of tackle football, but without the same risk of injury.

"The next best way to prevent injury is to seek programs in which the level of competition is not allowed to become destructive," he said. "At i9 Sports we require every parent and every coach to sign a pledge acknowledging that the most important outcome of any game is for the child to have fun."

The organization also emphasizes good sportsmanship over the score of the game, with its coaches teaching a new sportsmanship value each week, such as listening, respect, positive attitude and fair play. The child who best exemplifies the sportsmanship value each week is recognized with a medal.