Concussions in Youth Football: The New Laws in Place and How to Protect Your Child

Football players on the field

After over a year of waiting, youth football season is finally here! Throughout the pandemic, youth football teams took part in socially-distanced practices, as opposed to tackle football trainings, which significantly reduced the opportunity for injury. However, with the return of full-tackle football games and practices comes the return of possible concussions and other head injuries. What new laws have been put in place this season and how can you protect your child’s safety in this high-contact sport?

Under existing law, schools that offer an athletic program are prohibited from allowing a high school or middle school football team to conduct more than two full-contact practices per week during preseason and regular season. In addition to this, a new law was put into place on Jan. 1, 2021, under the California Youth Football Act, which reads, “a youth sports organization that conducts a tackle football program must comply with certain requirements, including having a licensed medical professional.” This emergency medical technician, paramedic, or higher-level licensed medical professional also has the authorization to remove a player from the game due to, but not limited to, a concussion or head injury.

These laws have progressed throughout the years as studies continue to find data supporting the claim that young athletes who play tackle football are more vulnerable to concussions and other brain injuries, which can affect them their whole lives. A CDC study found that youth tackle football athletes ranging from 6 to 14 sustained 15 times more head impacts and 23 times more high-magnitude head impacts than flag football athletes during practice and games. According to another study done by the Virginia Tech Helmet Lab youth football players are more susceptible to concussions than adult players. Steve Rowson, associate professor of biomedical engineering and mechanics and the director of the Virginia Tech Helmet Lab, reports, “Differences in anatomy and physiology, like head-neck proportions and brain development, contribute to differences in tolerance to head impact.” While a recent study out of Wake Forest University found that a single season of youth football could cause structural changes in the brain.

Fortunately, youth football concussions are relatively rare because younger players collide with less force than adult players, making them less likely to jostle their brains enough to cause serious injury. Yet if you are questioning whether or not your child is injured, err on the side of caution and get more medical advice, rather than less.

The most common concussion symptom is a headache, but parents should also look for signs of dizziness, nausea or vomiting, irritability or extreme anxiety, visual disturbances, or sleep disruption.

“Traumatic brain injury is an evolving injury. It’s not as though the head injury happens and five minutes later we know with certainty if something severe is happening” said pediatric emergency medicine physician Angela Lumba-Brown, MD.

Keep your child safe by reading about concussion safety and talking to your child about concussions. And if you suspect your child was injured on the playing field or in practice, and the supervising adults failed to follow the law, seek legal guidance as soon as possible.

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