What are the positive and negative effects on children playing full contact sports, such as Pop-Warner football? Should injury be an expected and tolerated outcome of sport participation? by Jason R. (11-08-03)
Many adults assert that participation in youth sports empowers children to feel better about themselves, builds team spirit and fosters friendships and cooperation. It is also claimed that participation in youth sports contributes to improved sport specific skills and enhanced health related fitness. If the above claims are true it would be reasonable to also apply these claims to contact sports, such as Pop-Warner football.
Participation in any sport activity carries a risk of injury. Generally speaking, the risk of diseases associated with inactivity is much greater than the risk of participation in some form of exercise. Still, based on the popularity and participation trends, it seems that many parents, coaches, and league administrators in America perceive the balance between benefits and injury in football as a positive one. Hospital emergency room statistics that reveal tackle football's high concussion rate per 1000 athlete exposures prompted the American Academy of Pediatrics (1988) to define tackle football as a contact/collision sport in its Policy Statement.
Since there is no shortage of alternative, less physically dangerous activities, to choose from, one may also consider the legitimacy of an activity that is susceptible to excessive injuries. A parent, who's child plays several positions on his football team, shared her concern that her child is often forced off the field due to some injury. My son plays flag football on his school's team and tennis at our local club and my daughter goes to gymnastics and swimming. I cannot imagine accepting a scenario that would cause any of my kids to have to interrupt their activity due to some injury every time they compete. Would anyone consider the question whether tackle football, as it is currently managed, is an appropriate activity for very young children, or children of any age? Should we further modify the rules to accommodate all kids and protect the most and least skilled*, or should we keep the practice of hard hitting intact and exclude the least skilled players?
One should also consider the fact that developmentally, children are quite different from their adult counterparts. From birth to the age of 10 a child's body weight represent 5 percent and 50 percent, respectively, of a young adult's weight. The same child's brain, however, reaches 90 percent of its adult size by the age of three, and reaches its full adult size at the age of six. A child's head is thus disproportionately heavy and large when contrasted with a child's total body weight. In addition, children's bones are not completely grown and injury to the bone at the epiphysis plate may cause improper growth in the injured limb. One parent stated that they expect their child to suffer a broken bone at some point in time while playing tackle football. While dreading the pain and suffering our child will have to experience, this is a sentiment that many parents share. Broken bones are almost a part of growing up in our culture that enjoys many collision sport activities, such as, football, ice hockey, dirt and mountain bikes, rollerblades, and skateboards.
*The least skilled players are prone to injury due to lower fitness levels and inadequate technique. Since the least skilled on any team are also the least likely to make a significant contribution during competition they may not get adequate attention during practice and may not share equal game time on the team. The most skilled players, on the other hand, get a lot of attention and are more likely to fill more than one position and a hefty amount of playing time. Despite their better skills and fitness, their extended exposure to the hazards of the sport puts them too at a higher risk of injury.
Dany (Nov. 08, 2003)
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