Youth football can be a dangerous sport. If your kids play, take these five measures to help minimize the risks, and keep them healthy and safe on the field.
Educate your kid.
“Many children don’t know the signs and symptoms. They may feel funny and not know why, or they may believe you have to black out,” says neuropsychologist Rosemarie Scolaro Moser, Ph.D., author of Ahead of the Game: The Parents’ Guide to Youth Sports Concussion. Others may not admit they’re hurt because they don’t want to be benched. Make sure your kid knows that shrugging off symptoms could have grave consequences.
Insist on a buddy system.
The coach can’t keep his eyes on all players, so teammates have to help. Tell your son and his pals to report when they see a hit or if a pal is “out of it.”
Suss out the coach.
Find out if your kid’s program follows Heads Up guidelines, CDC-partnered training materials on concussion, safe tackling (using the shoulders to make contact), blocking, and more. Talk to the coach and stop by practices to make sure the rules are followed. “A coach should be willing to listen to parents’ concerns,” says Brooke de Lench, director/producer of the documentary The Smartest Team: Making High School Football Safer.
Inspect the helmet.
Make sure it fits well and either was built in the past five years or has been recently recertified by the National Athletic Equipment Reconditioning Association (look for a NAERA label). As for helmet “add-ons” like sensors that measure impact, there’s no data yet that supports their value in increasing safety, but some experts say they could help coaches monitor their players from the sidelines.
Get baseline testing.
Many programs conduct computer-based cognitive tests (quizzes — not brain scans — on reaction time, visual motor speed, memory, and attention) on players at the start of the season. These “give a snapshot of what the child is like normally,” Moser says. “If he does get a concussion, [redoing those tests] can help determine whether the child is ready to return to sports.”
Testing should be conducted by an expert trained in administering them and interpreting data. If your team does not offer baseline testing, you can arrange individual testing, though you’d have to pay out of pocket.