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High-Contact Sports: Help Parents Consider the Risks & Benefits

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High-contact sports are under the microscope. Safety concerns abound, yet many teens still love playing high-impact sports. So share this article with parents—especially those whose kids play sports.

In football circles, the debate about head injuries and concussions still rages. Some people wonder what the fuss is all about. Others fear football may not have much of a future.

High-Contact Sports: Picking on the Pigskin?

Serious injuries can occur in soccer, hockey, baseball, basketball, and so on. But trauma also can result from car accidents and water sports. Sportswriter Rick Reilly notes that even cheerleading can be dangerous.

Yet football’s violent tackles keep the focus on the gridiron. More than 3 million American youth play football. But little to no data about head injuries exists in those age brackets.

Experts continue debating the short- and long-term effects of concussions. This is true for players of all ages and at all levels. Some people have wanted this discussion for decades. Others believe critics pick on football unfairly.

Throughout adolescence, I played lots of high-contact sports. I experienced euphoric celebration and strong, trusting relationships. I ended up with unforgettable lessons about teamwork, and yes, the occasional injury.

When students ask my age, I answer, “Old enough to lament my football-playing days.” Honestly, I’d do it all over. Then again, I never suffered a traumatic injury. Not everyone is so fortunate.

Safety Concerns About High-Impact Sports

The continuing conversation seems warranted, based on emerging studies. For example, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center studied 25 kids between ages 8 and 13. After just one season of football, MRIs revealed distinct changes in athletes’ developing brains. Scans showed alterations in the “white matter,” regardless of whether players had sustained a concussion.

Another study used accelerometers mounted to the helmets of 24 high school players. It found that athletes who took the most frequent hits had the “most pronounced changes in several measures of brain health.”

Researchers at Virginia Tech collected information to share with youth coaches. Their findings are eye-opening, and their recommendations are practical. For example, change practice drills to reduce hits.