Six ways to reduce young football players’ concussion risk

shutterstock_84227776Linebacker Chris Borland has retired from a promising NFL career at 24-years old, citing concerns about his safety. The rookie, who had sustained concussions while playing high school football and eighth-grade soccer, felt the risk of continuing to play football outweighed the benefits, including his $420,000 salary.

Is it possible to keep young players safe while playing football? Some parents have guided their children into sports that are perceived to be safer, like baseball, basketball and soccer. But all activities pose some risk, and for some young athletes, football is it.

How can parents and coaches reduce players’ risk of injuries, particularly concussion? Michael O’Brien, MD, director of Boston Children’s Hospital sports concussion clinic, weighs in.

  • Make sure your child’s sports equipment is in good condition and fits properly.
  • Insist on a culture of safety that does not reward overly aggressive or dirty play.
  • Ensure that coaches are up to date on safe practice and tackling strategies and have kept up with concussion education.
  • Focus on fitness: building neck and shoulder strength, as well as improving overall fitness, may lessen the risk of concussion.
  • Make sure your child is able to recognize the symptoms of concussion and knows to speak up if symptoms are present.
  • “When in doubt, sit them out,” means that if concussion is suspected, an athlete should be out of practices or games until he can be evaluated by a medical professional.

Computerized testing (like ImPACT) that assesses an athlete’s verbal and visual memory, processing speed and reaction time can provide a useful tool for doctors to use in determining when it is safe for an athlete to return to after concussion. Players and teams can schedule ImPACT testing at Boston Children’s Boston or Waltham sites.

Learn more about concussion prevention programs at The Micheli Center for Sports Injury Prevention.