Childhood sports offer children a whole range of benefits and teach skills that can be utilized now and throughout their lifetime:
- Improved fitness
- Co-operative behavior
- Time management
- Improved self-esteem
- Stress relief
- Learning from failure
It doesn’t matter whether participation is in the pool, on the field, the court or the track – Participation in sport has been proven indicative of success later in life, with a disproportionate number of CEOs having participated in sports during childhood:
- Walter Robb (Former Whole Foods CEO) – Stanford soccer team captain
- Brian Moynihan (Bank of America CEO) – Rugby player at Brown
- Mark Zuckerberg – High school fencer
- Meg Whitman (Hewlett-Packard CEO) – Swim team captain
- Indra Nooyi (PepsiCo CEO) – College cricketer
- Lynn Elsenhans (Sunoco CEO) – University basketball
Contact sports, however, have been gaining negative press, with many parents questioning whether they should be sending their kids out on to the lacrosse field, football field, ice, wrestling mat or rugby pitch and some physicians suggesting that doing so is tantamount to child abuse. Children can sustain anything from simple ankle injuries to full-blown concussions if the proper precautions aren’t taken.
Dr Bennet Omalu (on whom the 2015 Will Smith film, Concussion, was based), is quoted as saying:
“The fundamental definition of child abuse is the intentional exposure of a child to the risk of injury. That injury does not have to occur. We wouldn’t give a child a cigarette to smoke because a cigarette is potentially harmful. But we would put on a helmet on the head of a child and send him out on a field to play a game whereby he sustains repeated blows to his head…”Dr Bennet Omalu
Of course, this is a highly emotive way to describe a parent’s choice to allow their child to participate in contact sports and many parents will feel that, with proper precautions in place, their children can enjoy contact sports with minimized risk.
In order to “tackle” this issue, there have been significant changes made in the way that children are introduced to (and coached in) aspects of games such as American football. USA Football now promotes “Heads up football”, a couple of which’s components are explained below:
Concussion Recognition and Response
USA Football state that education is the first step in concussion awareness and player protection, but that responsibility doesn’t fall to just the players, coaches and match officials. As a parent, it’s important that you’re able to recognize dangerous situations and know not only how to identify but also how to treat a concussion.
Knowing when to withdraw your child from contact sports and how long to have them rest will ensure a full recovery and prevent longer-lasting symptoms and possible brain damage.
Proper Equipment Fitting
In a bid to maximize protection during participation, USA Football is promoting the proper fitting of equipment in order to minimize the risk of injury. Don’t let your kids share protective equipment (unless they happen to be the same size and playing at different times) and don’t use “hand-me-down” kit on the basis that they’ll “grow into it”.
Take the time to visit a reputable sporting goods store and find the helmet that suits the shape of your child’s head. A good fit goes a long way to optimizing protection from impact.
Simple steps, like those listed above, can go a long way to preventing head impacts and subsequent concussion or sub-concussion injuries. These measures aren’t limited to the football field and should be considered regardless of the contact sports your child chooses to play.
A focus on prevention and the knowledge of how to react to that prevention failing can ensure a long, healthy and successful career in contact sports.