Heads Up: Not a Silver Bullet, But Part of the Solution

A New York Times investigation finds that there may be flaws in the National Football Leagues conclusion that their Heads Up program has reduced concussions. After going through the detailed data of the study that the NFL relied on, the Times concludes that the program had little impact and that other changes in the Pop Warner program actually were the cause of the overall changes.

Rather than looking at Heads Up Football leagues in one category, the paper instead split them into two groups: those that did or did not also belong to Pop Warner Football, a division of youth leagues that has added its own rules to mitigate injuries. Pop Warner leagues have disallowed certain head-on blocking and tackling drills and drastically reduced full-contact practice time, measures that were not a part of U.S.A. Football’s program.

As it turned out, only leagues that adhered to Pop Warner’s rules saw a meaningful drop in concussions. Leagues that used Heads Up Football alone actually saw slightly higher concussion rates, although that uptick was not statistically significant. The previously reported drops were clearly driven by a league’s affiliation with Pop Warner, not Heads Up Football.

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Growing Awareness of Concussions in Youth Sports

An article in today’s Washington Post highlights the growing awareness of concussions in youth sports. The rapidity of this change still amazes me. It was not that many years ago that I hosted an event on concussions for Burke Athletic Club. Several parents contacted me saying that they were surprised that I would host such an event and invite soccer parents since concussions were not a problem in soccer.

They were wrong. Concussions were and are a problem in soccer and in many other youth sports. And the impact of that is seen in this article with the perception that youth football – especially tackle football – is too dangerous.

According to the Post:

Opposition to playing football before the age of 14 is strongest among women, with 84 percent opposed and 94 percent opposed to kids playing tackle football before they are 10. Eighty-eight percent of men oppose the idea of kids playing tackle football before they turn 10.

We have a lot to do to regain their trust and to make youth sports as safe as we can make it.

Adults Stealing from Children

It always upsets me when I see adults stealing from children’s groups. Whether taking cash from a concession stand or stealing it directly from a youth group’s bank account, it happens far too often. This New York Times story explores the dangers and reminds me yet again, that audits are so important.

From the New York Times:

The youth sports boom in the United States, fortified by at least 30 million participants, has turned what were once homespun local leagues into quasi-professional enterprises with annual budgets that experts who track nonprofits say regularly reach $250,000 — if not twice that.

Yet with the growth and development has come a long list of embezzlement and other corruption cases unfolding in a void of oversight and regulation and capitalizing on community trust. 

Across the country, people who volunteered as treasurers and other officers for Little Leagues and sports clubs have been prosecuted for pilfering gobs of money from the coffers: $220,000 in Washington, $431,000 in Minnesota, $560,000 in New Jersey, and so on, according to law enforcement authorities, league officials, experts on nonprofit organizations and news reports.

While I do not believe this requires national oversight or some new federal agency, it does remind everyone involved in youth sports that audits are critical. They can be hard to do and, especially the first time, can require changes to process and procedure. While it takes more time and requires more effort, it is worth it.

Interesting Survey of Youth Athletes

An interesting study of 300 youth athletes between 8 and 14 found some interesting things:

  • When asked their #1 reason for playing sports, 56% say to have fun.
  • 84% wish they had more fun when playing sports
  • 84% say at one time they quit a team or wanted to quit. Why? 47% say because “it wasn’t any fun.” 29% say some teammates were mean. 23% say there were too many practices that interfered with other activities.
  • 31% wished adults weren’t watching their games – they say mostly because adults yell too much, are too distracting, make players nervous and put pressure on them to play better and win.
  • When asked how they feel if their team loses, 63% say they still have fun.
  • 1 in 5 children witnessed a physical fight between players.
  • 59% have seen a verbal fight between players
  • 36% have seen a verbal fight between parents
  • 61% say they or their team mates have been called “not so nice” names while playing.
  • When asked who called them names, 69% say it was someone on the other team. 35% say it was a teammate. 12% say it was someone else’s parent.

I am still looking for a link to the actual survey. But here is a link to a story about it.

Sports Concussions

There is a lot of talk about concussions in both professional and youth sports.  Doctors have learned a lot more about these injuries than they knew when I was a kid.  Based on this, a lot of new resources have been created to help parents, coaches and athletes. 

One that I recently found is SportsConcussions.org.  I encourage you to check it out.

Symptoms from Concussions Vary for Boys and Girls

The Washington Post reports today on a study presented on the Hill.  The article is worth reading if you are a parent, coach or athlete.

From the article:

Data collected from 100 American high schools during the 2005-06 and 2006-07 academic years showed that while recuperation time is similar for both sexes, males reported more cognitive symptoms (feeling “slowed down” or “in a fog,” difficulty concentrating, difficulty remembering) while females reported more neurobehavioral (sleeping more than usual, drowsiness, fatigue, nervousness) and somatic (headache, nausea, sensitivity to light and noise, and balance problems) symptoms.

Overuse Injuries are a Problem for Youth Athletes

Yesterdays post on Mark Hyman’s blog Youth Sports Parent highlighted an article from the Albaquerque Journal about overuse injuries and the impact on youth athletes. It is worth reading.

Some highlights:

  • As athletes specialize earlier and train harder, overuse injuries are on the rise. Fifty percent of pediatric sports injuries are now the result of overuse, according to a 2007 article by members of the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness published in Pediatrics.
  • Cross-training and proper stretching also can help prevent overuse injuries
  • only 2 percent of high school athletes received college athletic scholarships, the National Collegiate Athletic Association reports.

Basketball Coach Goes Too Far

I saw this story on CNN earlier.  A basketball coach at Murrah High School in Jackson, Mississippi got upset about kids messing up a play in practice.  To make his point, he apparently whipped the player with what appears to be a weightlifting belt.  Someone caught it on video with a cell phone and witnesses say that is was not an isolated incident.

Here’s the CNN story.