It looks like there is a full scale assault on youth football by the misinformed. The attacks on youth football continue from many sides and include well publisized assaults from the political ranks in Illinois and New York amongst others. While youth football like any activity has risk, the risks seem to be misunderstood and overstated by many.
The Mayo Clinic, considered by many to be one of the top Health Care organization in the US found that youth football wasn’t any more dangerous to play than other sports. In 1997 Dr. Michael J. Stuart an orthopedic surgeon at the Mayo Clinic presented a study that found that for youth football players in grades 4-8, that “The risk of injury in youth football does not appear to be greater than the risk associated with other recreational or competitive sports.” This study of 915 boys aged 9-13 found that the injuries that occurred were mild and older players got injured at a rate higher than younger players. So much for letting kids wait until High School to play, where injury rates are higher.
The real facts and research was quite telling and flies in the face of what many of the politicians would lead you to believe. The study found that only 55 injuries occurred in games that year, 55 out of 915 kids. An injury is defined as something that was serious enough to warrant being removed from a portion of the game. Most of the injuries were very mild, scrapes or cuts, which accounted for 33 of the 55 injuries. Only 4 of the injuries involved broken bones. They also found that the rate of injury for an eighth grade player was four times that of a fourth grade player. This study was peer-reviewed and published in the Mayo Foundation Journal.
The Mayo Clinic isn’t the only one to have data that contradicts what many in our culture are shouting from the rooftops. The Institute for Sports Medicine and Trauma did a survey of over 5,000 players in 71 towns in New York. They found that in boys aged 8-15 that the rate of significant “major” injury was less than 2% and no catastrophic injuries occurred. In fact they found that in 5-15 year olds, there were 12% fewer injuries per capita for football players compared to soccer. There were 50% fewer injuries per capita than bike riding and 74% fewer than skateboarding.
According to a recent University of North Carolina study, the incidence of catastrophic injuries is very low on a 100,000-player exposure basis. For the approximately 4,200,000 football participants in 2011 the rate of injuries with incomplete neurological recovery was 0.19 per 100,000 participants. The rate for youth players was 0.03 per 100,000 participants.
The facts are football has gotten MORE, not less safe over the last 50 years. According to the ANNUAL SURVEY OF FOOTBALL INJURY RESEARCH by Dr. Frederick O. Mueller the number of direct fatalities in tackle football has been dramatically reduced over the last 50 years. The incidents per 100,000 College and High School players went from an average of about 2.0 per 100,000 in the 1960s to less than .3 in the 2000s, a sevenfold decrease in incidents. Football isn’t more dangerous to play today compared to the past, it is becoming safer to play in many respects.
How does football compare to other sports? According to the Insurance Institute of America, there were 265,554 children age 5-14 hospitalized in 2012 due to biking accidents. The fatality rate per 100,000 was 5 times that of football players, using the 2000 decade data. According to the NHTSA there were 71 children biking deaths in 2008, while there were none in youth football and 2 in High School that same year. I’m sure if you broke this down to BMX type bikes the ratios would be even higher. Do we really need to go into other sports injury rates to see how much more dangerous they are? Cheerleading leads the way on a percentage basis, then look at skiing, skateboarding and even gymnastics.
With the advent of the internet there has been an explosion of information in the last 10 years helping coaches to prepare their players in a safer manner. There are countless clinics, books and DVDs coaches can use today to be better coaches, that simply were not available 10 years ago. Many youth football leagues mandate that their coaches attend training sessions. The equipment has gotten safer as well, with helmet certification and better science and manufacturing. The equipment we have today is much better than what we had 50,30 and even 10 years ago.
Is todays youth football game a zero risk game? Goodness no, football is a physical game and there are legitimate injury risks. Not every coach is a good coach or will invest the time to insure his players learn to play the game safely. But there is risk in any physical activity or sport. Our jobs as parents is to weigh the real risks against the real rewards of playing the game and making a decision that makes the most logical sense for our own families.
In our next segment we are going to look at the rewards children and families get by participating in youth football.
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