Concussions and other head injuries are increasingly common among football players of all ages, but a new study examining the number of concussions on youth players has found that the majority of them occur during games rather than during practice.
Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and Cornell University studied 468 participants, aged 8 to 12 years old, from four youth tackle football leagues, and they were all part of 18 teams. Their exposure to concussive symptoms was recorded 11,338 times during the course of practice and actual games. Of these exposures, 20 different participants experienced 20 medically-diagnosed concussions; two concussions occurred during practice and 18 occurred during games, according to a press release.
They also found that the older participants, aged 11 to 12 years old, were three times more likely to have a concussion than those who were younger; 95 percent of the injuries, which were helmet-to-helmet collisions, involved players in skilled positions such as running back, quarterback, and linebacker. On top of this, compared to previous reports, concussion rates were two times higher during actual games and similar or even lower during practice games, making it 26 times more likely for players to suffer concussions during games than at practice.
According to Dr. Anthony P. Kontos, the reason these rates might have risen are because some football leagues are limiting contact during practice time in order to reduce concussions, however, he thinks the coaches, parents, and players focus is misdirected.
"Limiting contact practice in youth football may not only have little effect on reducing concussions, but may instead actually increase the incidence of concussions in games via reduced time learning proper tackling practice," he said in the release.
Focusing on tackling practice may be in the youths' best interest since, at the moment, football helmets are the most technologically advanced they've ever been. A study from early May compared modern helmets to the old leather ones in response to another study that found modern day helmets weren't any better. The study found that depending on how strong the impact was, the newer helmets performed better by anywhere from 45 to 96 percent.
Professional athletes experience a number of head injuries as well. During the 2012-13 NFL season alone, 160 players experienced head injuries, however, the NFL stays committed to reducing that number. Only from moving up kickoffs five yards during the 2010-11 season, there was a 43 percent drop in the number of concussions. Kickoffs are one of the most chaotic plays in football, according to PBS.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year emergency rooms treat an estimated 173,285 sports and recreation related traumatic brain injuries (TBI), including concussions, among children and teenagers as old as 19. Kids playing football experience the most exposure to TBI with 0.47 per 1,000, or 55,007, of them treated.
In addition to this, it takes longer for children to recover from TBIs than adults. They may seem mild at first, but can eventually lead to life-long impairment affecting their memory, behavior, learning, and/or emotions.