“Should My Child Play Football?”

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Football has always been a dangerous sport. Throughout my career I have had parents of athletes regularly ask me if I will let my kids play football. I have never been able to give a direct answer. I always said I would have to wait and see because my kids were young, and I would not have to make the decision any time soon. Now my kids are getting older, and football seems to be getting more dangerous. This NFL season has been full of serious injuries including the concussions sustained by Tua
Tagovailoa and the cardiac arrest experienced by Damar Hamlin. Parents are now asking me daily if
their kids should play football.
Therefore, I have decided to finally conclude for myself if I will let my kids
play football and therefore maybe I will be able to help other parents make the decision for themselves.


I began asking the high school and Division III college football players that I work with if they
were happy that they played football. I also asked them if they would let their future kids play football.
Surprisingly, none of the football players have answered definitively that they were happy that they
played football or if they would let their child play football. Most were unsure if they were happy with
their decision to play and unsure if they would let their future children play football. A few answered
that due to the injuries they had sustained that they wish they had not decided to play football and that
they would not let their future children play football.


On the other hand, I have watched many interviews of Division I and NFL players on TV. In
these interviews sports casters have asked football players the same two questions. Repeatedly the
football players at these elite levels say they are happy that they played football and would let their
children play football. Specifically, Michael Irvin once said that he owed everything to the game of
football because it changed the trajectory of his life and allowed him to change the trajectory of the
lives of many of the people in his family.


The significant difference in answers between lower level football players and more elite level
football players leads me to believe that the answers are based on the risk-reward balance.
High school
and division III college athletes do not receive financial compensation but still sustain the severe injuries
common in football. Division I athletes usually receive college scholarships and NFL players can make
millions of dollars. Therefore, the more elite players are willing to risk sustaining severe injuries because
of the significant compensation they receive.


Unfortunately, it is very rare that a high school athlete will reach the elite level where he/she
may receive financial compensation for their participation in sports. Recent statistics reveal that
approximately 1.3% of all high school athletes will receive any sort of college scholarship for athletics.
Even fewer will receive a full college scholarship. Furthermore, there is a less than 1% chance that a high
school football player will receive a division I college scholarship. In addition, only 1.6% of college
football players (Division, I, II and III) end up playing in the NFL.


In contrast, Football has the highest rate of injury among all sports played at the high school level. The rate
is 3.56 per 1000 athletic exposures. During the 2016 – 2017 season 444,281 injuries were sustained by
high school football players in the United States. Concussion was the most common injury accounting
for 122,372 of the injuries. Fractures, sprains, and dislocations were also common. A parent must ask
themselves if these high rates of injuries are worth a 1% chance of receiving a college scholarship and a much smaller chance of ever playing professional football.

I have also asked high school and Division III football coaches when children should begin playing
football. Most of them have said that playing contact football before middle school was not worth the
risk. They advised that children play flag football until middle school. This way, the young athletes can
learn the rules of the game and develop the physical skills to play the game while avoiding the risk of
contact. It is also recommended that all coaches of youth football programs undergo training to be
certified in Heads Up Football. This program provides certification courses to coaches to ensure that
they are educated in how to teach youth athletes the safest methods of playing the game of football.


After talking to football players and coaches and analyzing the evidence I have concluded that I
will let my children play football starting in middle school only if the following criteria are met:


1.) They must complete at least 2 seasons of flag football and demonstrate a high level of skill on
the flag football field.


2.) The coaches involved in their middle school team must possess certifications through the Heads
Up program.


3.) My children must read the injury statistics and understand and accept the risks themselves.

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