Has all this talk of concussions and brain injuries negatively affected youth football participation?

2014-12-16 09:51:56 by Dr. Joe Congeni - Director of Sports Medicine, as posted on the inside.akronchildrens.org blog.

Photo: Flickr/CC by StuSeeger Photo: Flickr/CC by StuSeeger

With all the recent discussions on concussions and brain injuries, youíve got to wonder if itís negatively affecting youth football participation. Well, the data is in.

In the last 2 years, weíve 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.

HORNER: With us right now is our good friend, Dr. Joe Congeni from Sports Medicine Center, Akron Childrenís Hospital. Joe, what do you have for us this morning?

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 donít know if you got a chance to see it.

HORNER: I did. Yes.

DR. CONGENI: In the last two years now, itís a bit of a trend. Pop Warner shows a 9.5 percent decrease. Thatís the nationís 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.

Dr. Joe Congeni Dr. Joe Congeni

Overall, a national survey showed about an 11 percent drop in the last couple of years. Now, thatís not dropping off the table, but it is definitely a trend in the last couple of years and some data to .

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.

Thereís even some discussion on the other side of it. to bring it back or stabilize youth football, do we have to kinda show a trend now the other way of being safer?

I think some of itís 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. Thereís 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 youíre going to be playing collision sports with youth, we really need to find a way to get trainers at youth football events, too. Theyíre the people that pick these up the earliest and get the initial treatment, which is really the most important first step.

Flickr/CC photo by USAG-Humphreys Flickr/CC photo by USAG-Humphreys

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. Thereís no question you were right on top of this when you asked me a couple of months ago.

HORNER: Well, Joe, one thing you see is lacrosse becoming a factor, I think, in fall sports. Youíre seeing a lot of kids doing that. Youíre 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, ďHey, if Rocco wanted to play football, would you let him?Ē And, I said, ďYeah.Ē I said, ďI 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.Ē

You also have had boys in football, and you are really tied into the safety measures. Would you let the boys play?

DR. CONGENI: Iím 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 the data used to say, well, really they donít 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 thereís 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 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 donít see any reason for returning in the same season if youíve had a question of a brain injury.

HORNER: Joe, a lot has been made in the NFL in regards to the fight against concussions, but still theyíre 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. is on an individual basis. There is some objective testing. Itís 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 personís evaluation may be different than anotherís. So, there is always going to be a little bit of an individual nature to the evaluation right now.

And, thatís 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, itís very individualized right now, Ray, and I know you know that.

HORNER: Good stuff, Joe. Thanks for joining us ó appreciate the time as always, Joe.

DR. CONGENI: Yep. If I donít 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: Thanks, Ray.

HORNER: Dr. Joe Congeni from Sports Medicine Center, Akron Childrenís Hospital, joining us this morning.

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