Injuries Uncommon in Youth Football Participation, Mayo Clinic Study Reports: Courtesy of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Rochester, Minnesota.
ROCHESTER, MINN. -- A Mayo Clinic study of youth football showed that most injuries that occurred were mild, older players appeared to be at a higher risk and that no significant correlation exists between body weight and injury.
The study, which appears in the April issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, found that the data for athletes grades four through eight indicated that the risk of injury in youth football does not appear greater than the risk associated with other recreational or competitive sports.
"Our analysis showed that youth football injuries are uncommon," said Michael J. Stuart, M.D., a Mayo Clinic orthopedic surgeon and the principal author of the study.
Dr. Stuart and his colleagues studied 915 players aged 9 to 13 years, who participated on 42 football teams in the fall of 1997. Injury incidence, prevalence and severity were calculated for each grade level and player position. Additional analyses examined the number of injuries according to body weight.
A game injury was defined as any football-related ailment that occurred on the field during a game that kept a player out of competition for the reminder of the game, required the attention of a physician, and included all concussion, lacerations, as well as dental, eye and nerve injuries. The researchers found a total of 55 injuries occurred in games during the season a prevalence of six percent. Incidence of injury expressed as injury per 1,000 player-plays was lowest in the fourth grade (.09 percent), increased for the fifth, sixth and seventh grades (.16 percent, .16 percent, .15 percent respectively) and was highest in the eighth grade (.33 percent). Most of the injuries were mild and the most common type was a contusion, which occurred in 33 players. Four injuries (fractures involving the ankle growth plate) were such that they prevented players from participating for the rest of the season. No player required hospitalization or surgery. The studys authors said risk increases with level of play (grade in school) and player age. Older players in the higher grades are more susceptible to football injuries. The risk of injury for an eighth-grade player was four times greater than the risk of injury for a fourth-grade player. Potential contributing factors include increased size, strength, speed and aggressiveness. Analysis of body weight indicated that lighter players were not at increased risk for injury, and in fact heavier players had a slightly higher prevalence of injury. This trend was not statistically significant. Running backs are at greater risk when compared with other football positions, the researchers reported.
Other authors who contributed to the study include: Michael A. Morrey, Ph.D., Aynsley M. Smith, RN, Ph.D., John K. Meis, M.S., all from the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center and Cedric J. Ortiguera, M.D., a Mayo Clinic orthopedic surgeon in Jacksonville, Fla.
Mayo Clinic Proceedings is a peer-reviewed and indexed general internal medicine journal, published for 75 years by Mayo Foundation, with a circulation of 130,000 nationally and internationally.
Is Football Safe for Kids?
by Kent Hannon: Sports Illustrated for Kids'
With proper coaching and equipment, the risk is minimal.
Ray McEwen is one of the men in charge of Sanford Stadium, where the University of Georgia Bulldogs play football. Over the years, he has seen college players dish out many head-jarring tackles, the kind that sports shows love to include in their highlight films. But the collision that scared McEwen the most was one that involved his son Brent.
At the time, McEwen was the coach of an age-group football team. Brent, then 10, played linebacker. "One day in practice, a ball carrier shot through the line and Brent collided with him, helmet to helmet," McEwen says. "Both kids went down and didn't move. I remember someone saying, 'Those kids are really hurt."
Though Brent's helmet slit in half, neither he nor the ball carrier was injured. Brent, who went on to play football through college, never suffered a serious injury. In fact, he sustained his worst football injury one day after practice. Brent and some friends were playing catch with a Nerf football when Brent tripped over his own helmet, fell, and broke his arm.
Three Safety Factors
Three factors helped prevent Brent from being seriously hurt when he collided with the other player. Those three factors explain why age-group football -- when taught and managed correctly -- is actually less dangerous, statistically speaking, than soccer.
1. Proper equipment minimizes the danger of serious injuries. "Brent was wearing a water-and-air-bladder helmet that was certified for college use," McEwen says. "He did split the helmet, but the helmet took most of the blow for him."
2. Proper technique helps kids avoid getting hurt. "Brent was taught that he should never use his helmet to make a tackle," says McEwen. "You lead with your shoulder. Even though this ball carrier surprised him, Brent was turning his head away at the time of the collision. That probably saved those boys from a concussion -- or worse."
3. FORCE = mass x acceleration, and kids don't generate much force. "Neither kid weighed one hundred pounds," says McEwen. "And they couldn't run very fast. So it wasn't like Lawrence Taylor crashing into Emmitt Smith."
Surprisingly Few Injuries
Experts believe that as many as one million kids play age-group football in the United States. (There is no national body that oversees age-group football.) Some 170,000 kids play Pop Warner, which is similar in organization to Little League baseball. Pop Warner, which is for kids ages 7 to 16, has very strict safety rules against which all youth football programs should be measured.
"Safety is always a concern in our program," says Ralph Dumican, who is in his eleventh year of coaching Pop Warner teams in North Attleboro, Mass. "Our coaches attend several clinics each year, and they're well versed in coaching, conditioning, and safety. Frankly, many more of our kids get hurt riding bikes, climbing trees, or in-line skating than they do playing football."
Pop Warner has never had a player fatality in its 67-year history. And studies show that most youth football programs are relatively safe. In a recent study, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission examined athletic injuries on a sport-by-sport basis. It found that organized football 5-to-15 year-olds had 12 % fewer injuries per capita than organized soccer for the same age group. Football also had 50% fewer injuries than bike riding and 74% fewer than skateboarding.
Good Equipment Is the Key
"Kids do get hurt paying football," says McEwen. "But if you put a kid in the right equipment, teach him proper techniques, and play him against kids who are the same age and weight, it's a pretty safe sport."
Fortunately, football equipment for kids has never been better. The same companies who manufacture equipment for the colleges and pro teams make equipment for kids. Beyond the standard helmet, pads (shoulder, knee, thigh, hips, tailbone), and rubber cleats, Pop Warner requires that players wear vests to protect their ribs and long Lycra girdles over all the padding to keep the pads from slipping.
"We use helmets that carry the NOCSAE (National Operating Committee for Standards for Athletic Equipment) seal of approval," says Dumican. "We send the helmets out each year to be reconditioned, pressure tested, sanitized, and re-certified."
"In the end, what coaches have to remember about age-group football," says McEwen, is that it's all about providing recreation for kids in a safe environment. The score doesn't matter."