The crowd is screaming and going wild. Lights are bright, maybe even blinding. People in the packed stadium are sitting on the edge of their uncomfortable seats. Football, America’s most popular sport, attracts anyone looking for a game of attention grabbing, brain rattling, bone crushing intensity. Many youngsters across America dream of playing in the Super Bowl and idolize several professional players such as Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Barry Sanders. A sport that teaches players to work as a team, train as an athlete, and develop quick thinking skills have increased through the decades; which, in turn, has caused the age to begin peewee football to drastically decrease, with some starting as early as five years old. Many of these young athletes’ desire being an exceptional football player. However, America’s most adored sport can be detrimental to young children’s health. A firm recommendation that children should not participate in tackle football until the age of thirteen should be made by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), allowing the bodies of adolescent children time to develop both physically and mentally reducing the risk of brain injury.
Repetitive and traumatic brain injury caused by multiple hits and tackles can lead to a multitude of problems such as: concentration problems, short-term memory loss, mood disorders, dementia, Lewy body, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), Alzheimer’s, and Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). In the article, Youth Football Linked to Earlier Brain Problems, Barbara Moran states those who began tackle football before the age of 12 experienced symptoms [of brain injury] an average of 13 years earlier than those who started playing at the age of 12 or older. The desire to give young athletes a head start in tackle football could be putting them at risk of many future diseases associated with repetitive brain trauma.
Many people believe that it is necessary for children to start tackle football at a very young age in order to gain a competitive age. It is argued youth should to learn the basics of football at a young age to prepare children’s mental and physical state for upcoming years of more intensive football. While there are many benefits to playing, youth should not be exposed to such a high risk of injury due to the disproportion of the neck and head size in young athletes. The human brain reaches approximately 90% of volume by age 6, according to the Neuropsychology Review. This causes a disproportion between the large head and underdeveloped neck muscles. This, in turn, increases the risk for their brains to possibly rattle, when tackled or hitting the ground because of tackles. This leads to an early development of concussion or repetitive brain injury. This is certainly a great risk for youth when considering the many hits a player receives in tackle football.
In addition, the preteen brain’s white matter is not fully developed below the age of thirteen; therefore, repetitive or traumatic injuries are more severe to younger children. White matter is a layer of deep tissue that improves the speed and transmission of electrical nerve signals, (White Matter of the Brain). Without the development of the white matter, it leaves the brain vulnerable to more serious injuries. When children reach their teen years, their brains have reached a stage of cognitive development within the white matter, which, in turn, prepares them for more difficult tasks such as tackle football.
Not only are children twelve and under physically immature, they are also still developing mentally. Younger children do not have the ability to make split-second decisions that tackle football requires to stay safe when playing such a demanding sport. In New Study Links Playing Youth Football to Later Brain Damage, Sean Gregory quotes Dr. Robert Cantu, a professor of neurology at BU and a leading expert on head trauma as saying, ‘Between the ages of 10-12, the brain is maximizing its connectivity and fine-tuning its structural development. Intelligence, mood tendencies, and impulse control are starting to take shape. Repeated hits to the head can only disrupt the cognitive growth process.’ Dr. Cantu shows that allowing to a child to paly tackle football before the brain has fully maximized causes long lasting damage.
In order to avoid post traumatic brain diseases later in life, children under the age of thirteen should be limited to play flag football. This type of football does not diminish the overall intensity and pure joy of football. Just as John Gerdy argues, 95% of the two forms of the game yield essentially the same benefits for participants. But rather than having to literally sacrifice [their] bodies to tackle ball carriers. The essential elements of the game remain, including the beauty and athleticism, albeit without the bone crunching, brain scrambling hits, blocks, and tackles. Fans are still given the opportunity to encourage hard-working youth while knowing that these young athletes have a decreased chance of experiencing brain trauma at an early age. The AAP is a valuable association that can help change the minds of Americans by making flag football a widely known solution for preventing brain trauma in young children. Flag football helps to keep youth safe and allows the sport to remain interesting while safely preparing America’s youth to play the most famous sport.
Postponing the start of tackle football would be an excellent way of allowing preteen’s bodies and brains to fully develop. Flag football provides the same desired skills, such as team work, athletic training, and development of quick-thinking skills. It also decreases the chances of forming major brain disorders later in life that can affect behavior, mood, and even the physiological makeup of the brain.
By allowing adolescent bodies to develop mentally and physically, flag football reduces the chances of developing chronic diseases. With the encouragement of the AAP, America’s most popular sport needs to make the change to allow youth under the age of thirteen to participate in flag football only due to the many risks involved. The injuries caused from early age tackle football can be life changing and even life threatening over time. If a strong recommendation were to be made to banish youth tackle football, many young lives would be spared the horrors of post traumatic brain injury.