Youth sports allow kids to channel their energy into something fun and competitive. In addition, they can teach many essential life skills, such as teamwork, responsibility, communication, navigating setbacks, and time management.
However, sports involve some physicality, especially high-contact and high-impact, such as football. In the NCAA and the NFL, we’ve heard of many adult players sustaining significant injuries from games or practice, including concussions. But what about young kids who play high-contact sports like football?
Are Kids at Risk for Concussions?
The simple answer to this question is yes; children are at risk for concussions. In fact, kids may be even more at risk of getting a concussion than adults.
There are several reasons why that is so. First, children’s brains are still developing. The brain is not considered fully developed until a person reaches their mid-20s. On average, girls’ brains continue growing until the age of 11, while boys’ brains keep growing until the age of 14. A young brain that’s not fully grown is more susceptible to injury.
Second, their necks haven’t built enough strength to support the head. Teens and kids have a larger head-to-body ratio than adults, meaning their brains risk more significant exposure to acceleration and deceleration forces that can cause damage.
Third, children are more active than adults overall. Thus, they are more inclined to play around or participate in sports, whether formally or informally, which tend to include at least some level of contact.
The risks of a child or teen getting a concussion are enhanced in youth football because it’s a high-contact sport. According to a study from The Journal of Pediatrics, five out of every 100 youths (between ages 5-14) experienced concussions for football-related reasons. Those who had previously experienced a concussion had a 5X risk of getting another one. These findings demonstrate the importance of preventing concussions in the first place for youth football players.
What are the Symptoms of a Concussion in Kids?
Recognizing the signs of a concussion is critical so that it can be treated early to prevent it from worsening. The symptoms may show up immediately. However, they could also take several days to appear, so it’s best to observe your child’s behavior after every game, especially if they have taken a hit to the head.
So, how can you tell if your child athlete has experienced a concussion? The symptoms of youth concussions are very similar to those of adults. Parents and coaches should look for signs such as:
- Memory problems
- Blurred or double vision
Big hits happen in tackle football, and coaches and parents need to pay close attention to players during and after games and practices. If you notice a young player struggling to recover from a tackle, sit them out for the remainder of the game and have them evaluated by a qualified athletic trainer.
As parents and coaches, it’s always best to stay cautious and play it safe to prevent further injury. If a concussion is expected, visit a health professional to have the player evaluated for signs of concussions or traumatic brain injuries. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), concussions may start to heal within weeks, although it could also take months or longer.
Every concussion is different, and kids should wait until they have clearance from a physician before returning to practice. Once they receive official medical support, they can slowly ease back into play.
How to Prevent Concussions in Youth Sports
While most people point to football when discussing head injuries, concussions can occur in various youth sports, including soccer, lacrosse, and hockey. Regardless of the sport, there are vital actions that parents and coaches can take to help prevent or minimize the risk of concussions in young athletes.
Equip your kids with the proper protective gear
Before letting your kids on the field, always ensure they wear all the proper gear to protect them from injury – helmet, mouth guard, shoulder pads, etc. For example, a study from the Journal of Neurosurgery found that helmets reduce the risk of traumatic brain injury by 20%.
It’s also essential that the helmet fits them properly to lower the risk of injury and impact. But there’s more to concussion prevention than just a perfect-fitting helmet.
Teach kids the right tackling techniques
Specific to football, coaches should teach their young athletes the safe way to tackle (and to accept a tackle from an opposing player).
One popular and widely supported technique is shoulder tackling, which takes the head out of the equation, and your shoulders do most of the action. It was developed by USA Football and the Seattle Seahawks and has been proven to be safe and effective in taking down opponents.
Do neck strengthening exercises
A study from the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy shows that strengthening the neck has the potential to prevent concussions A strong neck helps limit the amount of force upon impact.
While research on the subject matter is still early, it doesn’t hurt to try. Parents and coaches should implement exercises like neck turns, chin tucks, and stretches to develop the muscles in kids’ necks. Seeking the advice of a certified strength and conditioning specialist would be wise, as utilizing proper form in neck training is of great importance.
Try to limit contact during practice
Ideally, it would be good to delay full-on contact play until later in the children’s adolescence. Still, contact is part of the game, and many coaches maintain a traditional approach to player development.
If possible, coaches should plan to go light on the physical intensity during practices and scrimmages to limit the risks of head injuries. Instead, the focus should be more on fundamentals such as conditioning, hand-eye coordination, agility, and coordination of plays. Alternatively, younger players may be best off playing flag football, where they’re 19 times less likely to receive impacts to the head. Then, if desired, they can move to traditional football as they get older and more physically developed.
Protect Your Child from Getting a Concussion in Youth Sports
Preventing concussions in youth football players is a total team effort. Wearing the right protective gear and practicing safe tackling techniques can play considerable roles in concussion prevention.
But sometimes, injuries can happen, so knowing the signs of a concussion is vital so it can be treated early. Follow these steps to recognize the symptoms of a concussion and do what you can to prevent them in the first place.