Tackling the Tough Question: Should you let your child play youth football?

LUBBOCK, TX (KAUZ) - It's a question parents struggle with, should I let my child play football?

Football is a tough game. You see injuries and concussions at all levels of the game from NFL to College to High School. Injuries can happen in any sport, but how dangerous is youth football?

In the Frenship Youth Football League, they keep contact out of football with flag football for 5 and 6-year-old players.

"Safety is a big deal," says Frenship Head Football Coach Jay Northcutt. "It's a big worry for parents today, with concussions. The earlier kids learn how to play safe and tackle safely, the better. Keeps them safe and makes parents feel better about it."

In the Lubbock Cooper Youth Football Association, they have over 450 kids playing football but they haven't had a single concussion this season.

That's thanks in part to knowing more about concussions and knowing more about how to prevent head injuries.

Stan Kotara of Lubbock Sports Medicine has seen the shift to firmly focusing on safety.

"We are right in the middle of this huge safety movement in youth sports. Sports-related concussions are in the driver's seat. There's a lot we are learning. There is a bunch we don't know. The game is changing, trying to be safer," Kotara said.

Former Red Raider wide receiver Donnie Hart had a great career at Texas Tech, but in the very first Big 12 Conference game ever at Kansas State in August of 1996 he suffered a concussion on a hard hit. That was 21 years ago, so will he let his young son play football?

"That's a tough question to answer. Football meant so much to me. It's dangerous. It's scary. Concussions are something to consider. I hope he's smarter than me and hope he plays baseball or golf. It's hypocritical of me to say no you can't play so if he shows interest and seeks out information I'll cave in and let him go."

Tahoka Football Coach Stephen Overstreet has two young boys. What are his thoughts on their football future?

"I have no hesitation whatsoever letting them play. Learning competitive athletics, teammates, It's something good for them. I think sometimes some do start a little early. "

So what age should young athletes start playing tackle football?

Lubbock Cooper Board member Barry Fisher says "3rd grade, that's when Cooper Youth League starts contact, 3rd grade."

Stan Kotara says research shows young kids take longer to recover from concussions.

"A lot of pro athletes advocate not allowing tackle football till later on in middle school or high school. From a research science standpoint, what we know about concussions is younger kids recover from the injury slower. Complex process in the brain, kids are more susceptible to injury...longer to recover. "

Kotara says Lubbock Sports Medicine has implemented different testing programs that are available to check young athletes after they suffer head injuries.

"The Impact Test is a computer-based test that's published and validated. It's a tool to test children as young as 5 to 12 and 13 and older. A battery of tests, some computer-based, focusing on working memory, reaction time, vision and dizziness."

Kotara stresses that recovery time varies from player to player.

"Every kid is different. Every concussion is different. It's an individual injury. It's amazing how different it can be between the athletes."

Bottom line, parents need to educate themselves and weigh all the pros and cons and decide what's best for their children.

"I think each parent will have to weigh it out themselves and for their family." says Sylas Politte,  "I don't think there is a right or a wrong. We have kids come into our locker room in 7th grade and the only way I can tell if they played football, they can put their pads and pants on faster."

Donnie Hart likes the player safety changes that are being implemented in the game he loves.

"Guys are so big and so fast, collisions are so violent. You have to institute rules for safety for players. If not, you're taking risks with player's health. We want to make sure everyone walks off with all their faculties in order."

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