Parents are Open to Age Restrictions for Tackling in Football

Parents’ Perspectives Regarding Age Restriction for Tackling in Youth Football
Take Home Message: In the United States, the majority of parents (61%) support a minimum age for tackling in football. An additional 24% indicated that they would “maybe” support such an age limit.

In recent years, there have been increasing concerns about the acute and chronic effects of concussive and sub-concussive head impacts that occur during sports. Some sport organizations like US Soccer and USA Hockey have recently implemented age restrictions on heading and checking respectively with marked success with reducing injury in the latter. Despite football being the most popular youth sport for boys, no such age restriction exists for tackling. Furthermore, it is unclear if the public would support such restrictions if they were imposed. Therefore, Chrisman and colleagues surveyed a nationally representative sample of parents with school-aged children to determine the level of national support present for age restrictions on tackling. To do this, the authors created and distributed a survey targeting individuals in the United States aged 18 years or older with at least 1 child between 5 to 18 years of age. The survey included questions addressing demographic information, an individual’s interest in professional football (not at all to very interested), their perceived risk of football (how many youths out of 100 will sustain a concussion during a high school season), support for age limits for tackling in football (yes, no, or maybe), and at which age tackling should be introduced (elementary school, middle school, high school, or college). Of the 1025 respondents, 61% indicated they would support age limits, 24% would maybe support such limits, and 15% would not support such limits. A parent was more likely to support or maybe support age limits for talking if under 35 years of age, female, they had a child aged 6 to 12 years, less interested in professional football, or had a greater perceived risk of tackle football. Race/ethnicity, geographic region, and age of children were not predictive of supporting or not supporting age limits for tackling.

The majority of parents (85%) in this nationally representative sample indicated that they would potentially support age limits for tackling in football. The perceived risk of concussion in high school football was much larger than the actual risk found in previous studies. More than half (52%) of the parents in this study believed that more than 25% of athletes competing in high school football would sustain a concussion during a season when the actual number is closer to 5-10%. This highlights the need to further educate parents about the risks and benefits associated with American football. In 2015, the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness (COSMF) reviewed the literature and stated that age limits on tackling in football “would likely lead to a decrease in the incidence of overall injuries, severe injuries, catastrophic injuries, and concussions,” but made no specific recommendations. Chrisman and colleagues called upon the American Academy of Pediatrics to further examine the risks of early exposure to tackling and determine if they outweigh the benefits. One limitation of this study is that while the sample was nationally representative, it included parents whose children do not play football. Parents who are more involved in the sport could potentially have different opinions and should likely be a target of a future study. In the meantime, clinicians should educate key stakeholders (e.g., parents, administrators, players) about the risks and benefits of football and age restrictions on tackle football. It is also important to remind stakeholders that before implementing a new policy it is important to have evidence that it will work. It remains unclear if delaying tackling will decrease the number of injuries during the targeted age range but increase the risk of injuries when athletes start to engage in tackling as larger/stronger adolescents. There may be unknown benefits to teaching proper tackling technique when players are young.
Questions for Discussion: Should we implement age restrictions for tackling in football and if so, to what extent? Do you work with a youth population? How would your athlete’s parents react to such restrictions?
Written by: Ian McGinnis
Reviewed by: Jeffrey Driban
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