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Heads Up



Summer is a great time for kids to be outdoors. Whether it’s organized activities such as Little League Baseball and soccer or just splashing around in a pool and riding a bicycle, exercise is the best way for kids to stay fit and healthy.

What parent wouldn’t endorse less screen time and more playtime, especially in July during National Youth Sports Week? A critical component of this program is promoting physical activity safety. It’s not about the minor bumps, bruises, and scrapes kids may get from playing outdoors, but more serious injuries such as broken bones and concussions.

Football has especially been scrutinized the past several years primarily because of the risk of head injuries. Groups such as the Concussion Legacy Foundation recommend young people avoid contact sports such as football until they are fourteen years old. Although players wear helmets, shoulder pads, and other protective gear, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study revealed that young people playing tackle football are 23 times more likely to suffer a “high magnitude” head impact than those playing touch or flag football.

So, how do parents protect their children? They can be diligent in learning whether concussion protocols are in place during practices and games. Parents can educate their kids about concussions and encourage coaches to avoid contact drills during practices. And for their part, coaches should know how to recognize whether a young player has suffered a potential concussion and teach their players to avoid using their head to initiate contact. Also, for parents, ask if a medical professional will be in attendance during games.

Football, however, is not the only sport under the microscope. Soccer, usually viewed as a safer option for youth participation, has had its share of head injuries — resulting from “headers,” which are one way of advancing the ball or taking a shot on goal. Now, there is a movement to ban headers and having participants rely solely on using their feet.

And banning the use of the head in soccer is not being debated only in youth leagues. A 2019 study by the University of Glasgow in Scotland found that professional soccer players are three and a half times more likely to die due to neurodegenerative disease than the average person.

Of course, it’s essential to keep in mind the overwhelming majority of young people participating in organized sports in Texas will not suffer debilitating or long-term brain damage from playing organized sports such as football, soccer, or baseball. But one activity parents sometimes overlook is cycling. Texas doesn’t require cyclists to wear a helmet, but some cities have implemented laws that require young cyclists to wear a helmet.

One study conducted by the CDC and another by Consumer Reports found that wearing a helmet while biking can reduce the risk of serious head injuries by as much as 70%.

This is where parents can lead by example. Although adults aren’t required to wear a helmet while cycling, they can make their children safer by wearing one. Kids, in turn, will be more willing to wear theirs.

Although there are risks with physical activity, the chances of serious injuries remain low and are far outweighed by the benefits of an active lifestyle. And that is the goal of National Youth Sports Week.


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