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Corn Flakes: Playing Football Before Age 12 Can Cause Brain Problems

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Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

I'll be blunt.

I think having your son starting playing tackle football at an early age is stupid. I am fully cognizant of the fact that by making that statement I've pissed off a lot of youth coaches and a lot of fathers along with them, but were you to take the findings of the study linked below seriously, you would not allow your son to participate in youth football until 8th or 9th grade.

I get the idea of getting kids involved in sports early, but there are other options. There are a lot of other sports available and sports like soccer teach a young boy skills, such as footwork and teamwork, that they'll need to be successful in football later on.

I don't understand the need to start football in the third grade. I don't understand why a five or six year old would be wearing pads and a helmet. I understand that there's still a stigma attached to soccer as a "European sport" and that parents don't understand the sport and feel intimidated by it. I understand you might feel it doesn't make your son "tough enough", and why that would keep you from seeing flag football as a reasonable option of teaching the fundamentals of the sport until their brain

I understand the rationalization behind youth football. They've made the game safer. They've implemented safety precautions. They're doing more concussion training. These are good things.

The cynical side of me wonders if you're thinking that by the time the long term effects of concussions come around, you'll be dead and it'll be your son's problem to deal with anyway. He might be a star (even in 4th grade), and certainly you can bask in that glory and relive your youth vicariously through your child. (I don't know a father who wouldn't at least entertain that thought, including myself.)

Studies like the one linked aren't going away. They will have an affect on parental decisions. Football will have to continue to change. Perhaps one change would be to eliminate full tackle football until the 5th, 6th or 7th grades. We wouldn't see those cute commercials with little tykes running for touchdowns. I don't see why that isn't a sacrifice we are prepared to make.

If you disagree with the sentiment that kids shouldn't be playing football at an early age, feel free to leave a comment or send me an email (cornnation@gmail.com). I'd welcome any thoughts you might have on the subject.

Study of Retirees Links Youth Football to Brain Problems - NYTimes.com
A new study of N.F.L. retirees found that those who began playing tackle football when they were younger than 12 years old had a higher risk of developing memory and thinking problems later in life.

Age of first exposure to football and later-life cognitive impairment in former NFL players

Conclusions: There is an association between participation in tackle football prior to age 12 and greater later-life cognitive impairment measured using objective neuropsychological tests. These findings suggest that incurring repeated head impacts during a critical neurodevelopmental period may increase the risk of later-life cognitive impairment. If replicated with larger samples and longitudinal designs, these findings may have implications for safety recommendations for youth sports.

This is the link to the actual study, for which you must pay.

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