The “Heads Up” About Youth Football

Youth FootballWhether it be dreaming of being the star quarterback on the high school football team or watching the big game on Thanksgiving while eating turkey, football has always been an iconic part of the American Dream.

But over the last few years, Pop Warner youth football participation has been experiencing a decline of almost 10 percent.

How can it be that something so ingrained in our country’s culture is suddenly dropping in popularity?

The world of football has drastically changed over the last decade.

Research studies, media coverage of injuries, and professional athletes speaking out have all brought attention to the significance of head injuries and their long-term ramifications for football players.

After over 70 former professional players were diagnosed with a rare brain disorder that can cause aggression, depression, impaired judgment, confusion and problems with impulse control – chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) – athletes, sports fans, and commentators alike are questioning the future of the game. Recent headlines of the 24-year-old linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers, Chris Borland, retiring from the NFL due to head injury concerns have sparked up the conversation once more.

Professionals aren’t the only ones affected. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that emergency room visits for concussions among young athletes ages 8 to 13 has doubled, and concussions among teens ages 14 to 19 have risen 200 percent in the last decade alone.

With worried parents ready to withdraw their children from the sport, a new program called “Heads Up Football” stepped in to train coaches on safer tackling techniques, the signs of a concussion, and helmet-fitting practices.

Youth football players are still in the developmental stages of their lives, both physically and mentally. It is extremely important that every youth player is properly fitted with a helmet and shoulder pads. Equipment that does not fit the player properly places them at a greater rick of injury.

The program also teaches tackling techniques that emphasized the importance of keeping the head up and engaging the shoulders to protect the head during play.

Researchers looked at 10 youth leagues utilizing the program in Arizona, Indiana, Massachusetts, and South Carolina, each varying in demographics and size, to investigate the correlation between coaching behaviors and player safety. Concussions amongst teams with coaches who participated in training were less frequent compared to the teams with untrained coaches.

The results work to put an end to the days of volunteer coaches teaching the game based off of their own experiences. No matter the sport, educating coaches in safety techniques has now become a critical factor in keeping young athletes healthy.

Athletic Training program director at A.T. Still University, Tamara McLeod, PhD, believes that concussions will never be eliminated, “but if we teach proper technique, we can hopefully decrease the risk.”

An Alternative?

Flag FootballIn the event that parents still aren’t persuaded to enroll their children in the sport, youth football organizations are starting to recognize that as tackle football enrollment decreases by almost 10 percent, flag football participation is on the rise by nearly 11 percent.

Flag football acts as an alternative route for those kids (or parents) who aren’t ready to tackle and/or don’t believe it’s safe. The flag football players are learning the same skills that other youth football players are learning, but replacing the tackle with pulling a flag – removing the physical elements from the game.

By offering a safer flag program, youth football organization are creating an avenue that helps to postpone injury for their young players.

Knowing that training can help, but not eliminate the risk, what do you see in the future for youth football?

Share in the comments section below!

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Kris Baker

Executive Vice President at Demosphere
Kris Baker is the President of Demosphere and has been serving the Youth Sports Community since 2007.