As we begin to look forward to the close of Spring sports, the start of the Summer Baseball season and recreation registration for Fall sports, I am noticing an uptick in the conversation around the dangers of allowing our children participate, particularly in football. It seems that none of us can watch the morning news programs or read an internet article of late that does not pertain to the dangers of concussion and the alarming rate at which professional football players are being diagnosed with life changing brain injuries, so it is no wonder that parents are afraid and want to protect their sons and daughters from harm.

My fear, though, is that perhaps we are not having the correct conversation based on facts. According to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies (October 2013) report “Sports Related Concussions in Youth: Improving the Science, Changing the Culture”, the real issue we are having is that our children and the programs they are involved in, are not well educated as to how to report a concussion, what the signs and symptoms are, and how we can all help to ensure that our children are protected. The real facts are that we do not have all of the facts that we need to make the decision about youth sports. The National Academies article clearly states that the majority of conclusive evidence and medical data is at the High School, College & Professional sports level.

With all of that said, it is important to note that  amongst High School and College athletes, Football, Ice Hockey, Lacrosse, Wrestling and Soccer are consistently associated with the highest rates of concussions for men; for female athletes, the highest rates of concussions are in Soccer, Lacrosse, Basketball and Ice Hockey. Based on this study and report, not one sport is highlighted as more dangerous or less dangerous than any of the others. There is probably a reality to competitive sports that they are dangerous and require a high level of exertion that tend to lead to injury.

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So why is there so much attention placed on Tackle football at the youth level? In my opinion, it is more than likely due to the amount of coverage (and pending litigation) of NFL players who have been irreparably harmed by repetitive brain injuries. Their lives have been impacted forever based on years of abuse, but perhaps some perspective is required to better understand how youth Football (and all youth level sports) is a bit different than High School, College and especially professional sports.

Having been involved in youth Football, Lacrosse and Hockey in Randolph for the past three years and having participated in Football as a player from youth (Randolph) through College level, I can say unequivocally that there is a huge difference is the level of play. In addition, the motivation for play is much different which could lead players to play injured as Professionals and/or College Athletes. Having been a coach for the Randolph Bulldogs for the past two years I have seen two separate phenomena that I would like to highlight. The first is that the majority of injuries we saw throughout the season occurred either during a game situation or outside of the sport all together (generally when the boy was playing “touch” football at recess).

The second is that I am noticing a much higher incidence of our players playing either one or two additional sports in the same season as Football. I completely understand the desire to allow your young athlete to play every sport they wish, but it should be noted that their little bodies cannot be expected to keep up with that much sport. There is a reason why, in the Bulldog Football program, we start off in their first year with 1-2 practices per week and then steadily increase that frequency as they get older. Their bodies are still developing and growing and need time to rest. In addition, we are much more inclined to see injuries when our players are tired or distracted.

So then, what is the “right” conversation to be having? We should be having the conversation about how to have our sons and daughters safely participate in competitive sports. Speaking from experience with my own sons (who participate in Football, Lacrosse and Ice Hockey), I can say that the coaches they participate with are extremely well trained in contact sports. In the case of Lacrosse and Ice Hockey, Randolph Recreation Hockey & Randolph Recreation Lacrosse have been members of national sports associations (USA Hockey & US Lacrosse respectively) for many years and educates every coach and team manager on player safety, injury reporting and appropriate drills. As of this coming season, Randolph Recreation Football is now a participating member of USA Football which requires every coach to go through a certain number of hours of training for drills, health and safety. The program also teach “Heads Up Football” which educates and certifies all of the recreation coaches for equipment fitting, concussion recognition and awareness, heat & hydration and proper tackling techniques.

None of this is to say that our sons and daughters will not get injured playing competitive sports. Inevitably they will encounter some level of injury, especially as they move up through the levels of competition. Our jobs as parents, coaches and players, it to make sure we offer the safest environment to play in. Best of luck in the coming seasons!

Greg Saxon

4th Grade Coach – Randolph Bulldogs

Randolph Recreation Youth Hockey – President

The following statistics are from the National SAFE KIDS Campaign and the American Academy of Pediatrics:

Injury rates:

·       More than 3.5 million children ages 14 and younger get hurt annually playing sports or participating in recreational activities.

·       Although death from a sports injury is rare, the leading cause of death from a sports-related injury is a brain injury.

·       Sports and recreational activities contribute to approximately 21 percent of all traumatic brain injuries among American children.

·       Almost 50 percent of head injuries sustained in sports or recreational activities occur during bicycling, skateboarding, or skating incidents.

·       More than 775,000 children, ages 14 and younger, are treated in hospital emergency rooms for sports-related injuries each year. Most of the injuries occurred as a result of falls, being struck by an object, collisions, and overexertion during unorganized or informal sports activities.

Where and when:

·       Playground, sports, and bicycle-related injuries occur most often among children between ages 5 and 14 years old.

·       The highest rates of injury occur in sports that involve contact and collisions.

·       More severe injuries occur during individual sports and recreational activities.

·       Most organized sports-related injuries (62 percent) occur during practice.

Types of sports and recreational activities

Consider these estimated injury statistics for 2009 from the Consumer Product Safety Commission:

·       Basketball. More than 170,000 children ages 5 to 14 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for basketball-related injuries.

·       Baseball and softball. Nearly 110,000 children ages 5 to 14 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for baseball-related injuries. Baseball also has the highest fatality rate among sports for children ages 5 to 14, with three to four children dying from baseball injuries each year.

·       Bicycling. More than 200,000 children ages 5 to 14 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for bicycle-related injuries.

·       Football. Almost 215,000 children ages 5 to 14 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for football-related injuries.

·       Ice hockey. More than 20,000 children ages 5 to 14 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for ice hockey-related injuries.

·       In-line and roller skating. More than 47,000 children ages 5 to 14 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for in-line skating-related injuries.

·       Skateboarding. More than 66,000 children ages 5 to 14 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for skateboarding-related injuries.

·       Sledding or toboggan. More than 16,000 children ages 5 to 14 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for sledding-related injuries.

·       Snow skiing or snowboarding. More than 25,000 children ages 5 to 14 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for snow boarding and snow skiing-related injuries.

·       Soccer. About 88,000 children ages 5 to 14 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for soccer-related injuries.

·       Trampolines. About 65,000 children ages 14 and under were treated in hospital emergency rooms for trampoline-related injuries.