Parents spend much of their parenting making sure their child is safe. Seatbelts, childproofing, helmets, healthy eating, holding them correctly, watching for choking hazards, being mindful of mental health, etc. However, while parents are concerned about so many aspects of keeping their children safe, they are still driving their kiddos to soccer practice. With all that we are learning about the dangers associated with contact sports, is it safe for parents to allow their children to participate?
The risk of injury
The concern with allowing children to play sports is obviously the risk of injury. The most prominent and scary injury common to those that have competed in contact sports is CTE (which can develop as a result of concussion). CTE – chronic traumatic encephalopathy – is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in many athletes with a history of repetitive brain trauma such as football players and boxers. CTE causes memory loss, impaired judgement, impulse control issues, aggression, depression, and eventually progressive dementia.
Along with concussions and CTE are all of the other injuries common to contact sports like sprains, breaks, knee injuries, and joint issues among others. These physical risks are also concerning, but none of them come close to the concerns that deal with the brain. Especially for younger players that may have their neurodevelopment at risk. Sports-related concussions account for more than half of emergency room visits for kids ages 8 to 13, and after a child has experienced a concussion they are more likely to experiences another. So the risk is definitely there for kids of all ages participating in sports.
Contact sports vs. other sports
Contact sports are the focus here because they are most commonly associated with concussions. Boxing, football, rugby, hockey, etc. are all sports that involve one player hitting another player. Of course, there are many other sports that have players battling with concussions and other injuries such as skiing, baseball, soccer, and gymnastics among others. The risks are still there for many sports, but they are not quite as common as the risks in the contact sports field which is why sports like football and boxing get the bad reputation.
For parents that are concerned about their children playing contact sports due to the risks involved with concussion, there are other options to keep kids in sports without subjecting them to the higher risk of CTE. While there’s no guarantee that another sport won’t be dangerous, the risks are lower for the sports that don’t involve direct contact with other players.
The value of children in sports
Deciding on whether or not to allow your child to play contact sports has to involve having a well-rounded view of how sports affect the children that play them. We know the risks of concussion are prominent and realistic, next is to understand the positives that come from team sports. One of the major positives to enrolling your children in a sport is the added physical development. Kids are learning muscle control, hand eye coordination, and exercising their bodies to keep them healthy. It helps to combat obesity, it improves their endurance, and it provides fun exercise.
Physical perks aren’t the only positives to having children in sports, playing sports also encourages teamwork, boosts self-esteem, teaches discipline, and provides a positive social environment. Also, there’s no denying the positives associated with academics and opportunity to play at a collegiate level as well. For kids that are passionate about sports, are practicing good sportsmanship, and are doing well in school it’s hard to keep them from an activity having such a positive impact on them.
Increased safety awareness
The nice thing to remember about our growing understanding about the dangers of contact sports, is that our understanding for safety is growing as with it. The radiologic technologies used to identify and diagnose injuries and head trauma is more advanced, procedures for identifying concussions are common for all age groups, and safety gear is becoming more technologically advanced. The more we find out, the scarier concussions seem in the sports world, but it also leads to more answers. More treatments, more understanding, more preventions, and faster medicine are all perks to having concussions and CTE studied so extensively. It’s not a coincidence that the athletes being diagnosed with CTE are boxers and football players that competed while concussion protocol and safety guidelines weren’t as prominent.
Not only are coaches not allowed to have a child return to a game if they are suspected of having a concussion, they are also more equipped to identify those symptoms. Some concussion research being done even includes a mouthguard that measures impact. Professional athletes can’t return to the field until they are medically cleared, and they have doctors watching hits in real time. The most damaging aspect to concussions was the mindset that a kid just “had his bell rung” by a hard hit and that it was tough to go back in despite an injury.
To play or not to play
Ultimately, there has yet to be definitive information that says whether or not children should be playing contact sports – so it’s up to the parents to decide for their kiddos. Right now we know there are extensive risks to multiple concussions that can be life threatening and tragic and that those risks should be avoided. This can mean taking your children out of contact sports, going with another sport, or just being more conscious and insistent on safety rules within the contact sport your child plays. In order to decide what’s right for your family, ask, “What is the value of my child playing this sport?” Perhaps your child isn’t as interested in that particular sport and wouldn’t mind playing one with less risks, or none at all. But for others, that sport may be high value for them.
The answer to this question also lies in the health of your child. If they’ve already received a concussion or have been hurt playing a contact sport it may be safest to remove them from that sport for a time or indefinitely. Teach your child about the importance of reporting a concussion, audit the coach your child will be playing under, and stay educated on the risks. It’s also important to note how much sports safety has improved. The more we learn, the more we work to make things safer.
All parents want for their children is for them to be safe and happy and for some parents it can be difficult to fulfill both of those things if their children enjoy a sport that can be dangerous. Not all athletes experience issues with concussions, but the risk can be scary for parents and students. When deciding if your child should be playing a contact sport it’s important to know the risks of injury, be aware of other sports that may be safer, know the value of having a child in sports, the growing understanding of safety technology, and how to make the decision for your child.