It’s mid-August, and parents of middle schoolers and high schoolers across the country may be having the same conversation – do we let our kid try out for a contact sport?
Parents have to weigh the risk of injury against the benefits of exercise and being part of a team, particularly in that American staple of fall sports, football.
They may be justifiably nervous. A recent study from the CDC states kids under the age of 15 visit the emergency room for traumatic brain injury (TBI) more often than any other age group. The second leading cause of that group’s TBI in emergency room settings is from “falling objects or against objects or persons,” like you may see in contact sports.
There’s also the recent article in the NY Times that says the Heads Up technique (of coaching young athletes to look up, instead of down, during tackling) actually does not reduce the rate of concussions as much as earlier-released data had suggested.
Charlene Foley, director of consumer experience at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, has a football family. Her husband played from middle school through high school, and then at Appalachian State University. Her family heads up to Boone to cheer on the Mountaineers every chance they get.
Her 13-year-old son was the manager for his middle school’s football team last year. (Sixth graders can’t play team sports at his school.) Now that he’s about to enter seventh grade, he’s pretty sure he wants to try out for the team. Charlene is ready to cheer him on from the bleachers, right? Well, yes and no.
“I’m definitely nervous about it,” she said. “He’s played basketball, and he’s been on the swim team, but this would be his first contact sport. And what mom really loves the idea of her son getting tackled?” She said, “I was secretly hoping he’d try out for cross country instead. It just seems much safer.”
But despite the news and movies warning against concussions, they’ve made the informed decision to let him try out for the team. Foley and her husband both played team sports (she played basketball throughout middle and high school), so they have a unique perspective on the benefits.
“I want him to stay active, and to have the camaraderie that comes with playing a sport,” Foley said. “We’re going to let him have a go at it. First, he has to try out and make the team. Second, he’s got to actually have some playing time. I don’t think there will be too much to worry about this year. He’d be playing against other middle schoolers. This isn’t the NFL.”
Benefits of Team Sports
I also talked to my brother-in-law, whose father coached high school and then college football for nearly 40 years. My brother-in-law also played football in high school and at N.C. State. He’s a doctor now, so he has a fierce and lifelong love of the game balanced with the knowledge of what really happens to the brain during a concussion.
Would he let his two young sons play?
“Absolutely,” he said. “Football taught me about accountability, team work, and the value of working hard. It’s a sport where you have all different types of kids – with different body types, abilities, and from different backgrounds – who can come together and work as a team. You can’t be selfish in football.”
He said football shaped who he is today, and he still keeps in touch with his high school teammates … including Charlene’s husband.
Letting your kid start young with sports could foster a lifetime of healthy habits, friendships, and a strong work ethic.
“The lessons learned with sports can last for life,” said Foley. “In a team, it’s not just about you. It’s about many having to function as one to meet a goal. The root skills of team work and sportsmanship can help you with every avenue of life.”