Rethinking Youth Sports: A Neurosurgeon’s Plea

In a recent article in the New York Times Dr. Robert C. Cantu, a professor of neurosurgery at Boston University, issued a thoughtful, yet passionate, call for parents and school officials to rethink the way we approach youth sports here in the United States.

Writing that he meets with some 1,500 concussion patients each year, Dr. Cantu lays out the case for lowering the degree and intensity of contact that younger children experience across a range of sports. “In light of what we now know about concussions and the brains of children,” he writes, “many sports should be fine-tuned.” Dr. Cantu writes that children under 14 are fundamentally more vulnerable than older teenagers or adults. “A child’s brain and head are disproportionately large for the rest of the body,” he notes. “And a child’s weak neck cannot brace for a hit the way an adult’s can. (Think of a bobblehead doll.)”
He begins the piece by focusing on football, where he believes tackling should be eliminated for children under 14, but emphasizes that head trauma, concussions and brain injuries are all more common in other sports than is popularly believed. His piece goes on to propose rule changes in soccer, ice hockey, baseball, softball, field hockey and girls’ lacrosse – many of which are not activities most of us think of as contact sports.

From a Portland brain injury lawyer’s perspective, and especially as an attorney with a particular concern for injuries involving children here in Oregon, the recommendations Dr. Cantu offers are timely and well-considered. We all want children to be healthy and active, but is it really necessary for 7-year-olds to be playing tackle football instead of the touch or flag variety? Should 10-year-old baseball players really be learning head-first slides (Dr. Cantu writes: “when a child’s head plows into an ankle or a shin, the leg always wins.”)? In some cases the helmet rules he recommends would amount to little more than an acknowledgement of the realities of the game (Dr. Cantu believes that girls playing field hockey, for example, need helmets because high-sticking is against the rules but, basically, endemic in the sport).

“We cannot eliminate head trauma from youth sports. What we can change is our mind-set so protecting the head and the brain is always a top consideration,” he writes.

Sound advice, indeed.

New York Times: Preventing sports concussions among children

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