With all the recent discussions on concussions and brain injuries, you’ve got to wonder if it’s negatively affecting youth football participation. Well, the data is in.
In the last 2 years, we’ve seen overall an 11 percent decline in youth football participation across the country.
Today, I had the chance to speak with WAKR host Ray Horner about this topic. On the other hand, there are studies out there that show football is safer today. Plus, there are some things we can do to even further protect our young football players.
Below is an audio file and transcript of our discussion.
DR. CONGENI: Hey, Ray. You know, with all you do around the community, particularly with sports and high school sports, I know you asked me this question just a couple of months ago. I forget when, but you were right on target. You were asking me is all this discussion about injuries and brain injuries starting to affect youth football.
The data finally came out in the last few weeks. I don’t know if you got a chance to see it.
HORNER: I did. Yes.
DR. CONGENI: In the last two years now, it’s [become] a bit of a trend. Pop Warner shows a 9.5 percent decrease. That’s the nation’s largest youth football organization. USA Football, which has the backing and support of the NFL, had a 6.7 percent drop or decline in participation.
Overall, a national survey showed about an 11 percent drop in the last couple of years. Now, that’s not dropping off the table, but it is definitely a trend in the last couple of years and some data to [review].
We hypothesize is it the injuries? Is it the brain injuries, particularly? I think that probably has a lot to do with it. Is it just that there are other options for parents to put their kids into? You know, that may be part of it, too.
There’s even some discussion on the other side of it. [In order] to bring it back or stabilize youth football, do we have to kinda show a trend now the other way of [football] being safer?
I think some of it’s encouraging news for guys like us that know football has a lot of real benefits to it.
There are a couple of studies that have been out in the last few months that show football is safer, but not completely safe. There’s also been a lot of discussion about what are some of the things that could be done to make football safer.
One of the ones that everybody kinda mentions is we need to make sure that we have certified athletic trainers at all high schools. Only 60 percent of high schools in the U.S. have ATCs, or certified trainers.
And, really, if you’re going to be playing collision sports with youth, we really need to find a way to get trainers at youth football events, too. They’re the people that pick these up the earliest and get the initial treatment, which is really the most important first step.
So, trainers would be a big piece of the puzzle.
The other is safe techniques, the heads-up tackling techniques and making sure people are doing that.
Then the third is the controversy about a lot of people starting to say nothing but flag football until high school. All youth football should be just flag football.
So, those are a few things being kicked around about trying to make it safer and bringing those numbers back. There’s no question you were right on top of this when you asked me [that question] a couple of months ago.
HORNER: Well, Joe, one thing you see is lacrosse becoming a factor, I think, in fall sports. You’re seeing a lot of kids doing that. You’re seeing the fall baseball and that type of thing.
As far as football, you know, I was asked the question a couple of months ago, “Hey, if Rocco wanted to play football, would you let him?” And, I said, “Yeah.” I said, “I see a lot of benefits of the game. I played the game. I love the team community. I love the aspect of the whole game.”
You also have had boys in football, and you are really tied into the safety measures. Would you let the boys play?
DR. CONGENI: I’m a little bit torn on that, and I have let my two boys play. My second one is still playing now as a freshman football player at Hoban.
I think we had a lot of very good times coming up through youth football, too, with him in the CYO network. And, I think the CYO network here in Akron is really very well done and the football part of it is really a good experience.
But, I definitely see both sides of it now. Especially from the days [when] the data used to say, well, really they don’t hit hard enough in youth football for there to be significant injuries, particularly to the brain. I think those are in the past. I think there are injuries.
But, I would be so much safer as a parent with my kid if there’s even a question of a concussion or brain injury at a young age.
This goes for soccer and basketball, too. You know, we say this all the time, but [concussions in] all the contact sports are going up.
If your kid does have a questionable injury in a youth sport, they need to sit out longer. The brain takes twice as long to recover. And, really, I don’t see any reason for returning in the same season if you’ve had a question of a brain injury.
HORNER: Joe, a lot [of progress] has been made in the NFL in regards to the fight against concussions, but still they’re all not on the same playing surface.
For example, there were some players last week that were diagnosed with concussions that were ordered to sit out with their second concussion. But, there were also players in the NFL that suffered their second concussion and they were able to play.
Is it a doctor-to-doctor judgment call?
DR. CONGENI: It is, Ray. [Each examination] is on an individual basis. There is some objective testing. It’s not as simple as a push button green light, red light thing. But, the testing and the initial evaluation is still totally dependent on the person doing the evaluation.
So, you know, one person’s evaluation may be different than another’s. So, there is always going to be a little bit of an individual nature to the evaluation right now.
And, that’s also why we talk a lot here about the tools out there now trying to make it a little bit more objective and a little less just up to the specific physician doing the evaluation. But, it’s very individualized right now, Ray, and I know you know that.
HORNER: Good stuff, Joe. Thanks for joining us — appreciate the time as always, Joe.
DR. CONGENI: Yep. If I don’t get to see ya before Thanksgiving, Ray, have a great Thanksgiving holiday with your family.
HORNER: Same to you and that group you have there, Joe.
DR. CONGENI: [laughter] Thanks, Ray.