A recent article about youth football in the Minneapolis Star and Tribune quoted local youth football organizers as saying they are experiencing a 20 percent decline in registrations this year. They cite the increased awareness of the potential of serious injury, and parents are apparently making other choices for their 3rd and 4th grade children. This puts the program organizers in a complicated position as they strive to grow or at least maintain participation in their communities. Not knowing much at all about football I am not in a postion to make any judgments; however, as an observer and long time participant (player, coach and administrator) in hockey, soccer and lacrosse, it seems that all youth sports that involve contact are beginning the process of evaluating and modifying the games to make them safer and age appropriate, which is a good thing.
Youth athletics in the US are recreational activities based on the concept that involving the largest number of players at the younger ages will eventually produce enough top quality players to compete as elite athletes. Using the Bell Curve theory, the more participants in the game the more top players will emerge. With millions of kids playing youth sports, and the media attention given to sports, parents natuarally want their kids to play just like the college and professional players.
Soccer and lacrosse have recognized how to modify the games for younger players and gradually move towards the adult versions as the players move into their teenage years. Hockey is attempting to make adjustments, but lacks the resolve to mandate the changes necessary and insure that rules are enforced. Football has recognized weight and size differentials and incorporated them into their structure, and Pop Warner is reducing the amount of contact to which players are exposed during practices.
The question remains whether this is enough to reduce the serious injuries (mostly concussions) that thousands of youngsters and high school ahtletes suffer every year?
The debate will no doubt continue and intensify in the coming years as injury data becomes more reliable and medical understanding of the issues surrounding concussions and other serious injuries increases.