Youth Football: Certain Benefits Outweigh Possible Risks

October 27th, 2014

Early in October, Detroit Lions cornerback Rashean Mathis told a local sports reporter he doesn’t want his now two-year-old toddler to play pro football. You know, later.

"He doesn't have to play any sport, as far as I'm concerned,” Mathis told the Detroit Free Press. “But if he does get into it, football will be the last thing I introduce him to.”

Why? Because it’s physically “taxing” he says, and, like all NFL dads, he knows the potential damage caused by the repeated concussions inherent to such a high-contact (professional!) game.

However, Mathis’s fear being transferred to standard parents of standard children playing a standard youth league football team is fairly ridiculous. It’s like not allowing your grade schooler to pursue engineering because of the stiff competition among honor students at MIT.

And yet, recent coverage of former NFL players’ concussion complications is reportedly affecting the choices parent make about their children’s participation in youth sports.

Since 2008, participation in youth football has dropped more than five percent, and soccer seven percent.

It’s a consumer trend based on such unfounded fears, that neurologists at top hospitals have begun advocating for youth football.

"If somebody says 'I like playing (football or soccer), but my mother and father are worried that I am going to get a concussion so therefore I'm going to chose not to play,' – that’s a tragedy," asserts a child neurologist at Children's National Medical Center.

That’s because, like so many choices we make to protect our children, he says there is a balance between potential risks and benefits.

He and other colleagues maintain that the risk of inactivity is a far more urgent issue that the far-off potential risk of high-level participation football. But, seriously, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon (Get it? They are neurologists! That cliché was made for this discussion!) to realize that the impact of a possible injury is uncertain, while the benefits of playing YOUTH football (not NFL football, but YOUTH football) are certain:

  1. Mental: Children learn the values of delayed gratification, overcoming obstacles, preparation and hard work, controlling emotions, overcoming fear and even pain, and the experience of one-on-one and group competition.
  2. Physical:Improved health and weight control, lower diabetes risk. Most youth teams require 20 hours of conditioning—including running and stretching—with no pads and no contact. (And guess what they CANT play on the field? X-Box and Netflix!)
  3. Academic: Players (aka students) particularly in football, learn the value of discipline, and as I’ve pointed out in previous blogs, the benefit of focus and concentration, and confidence which reflects on academic performance.
  4. Social/professional: Commitment also extends to relationships with other people, and eventually with bosses and co-workers. Good sportsmanship is also a lifelong value: Learning to win and lose with graciousness, and be part of a team, and have something greater than oneself.

There are also very strong parent support groups in youth football, as well as a sports wide effort to teach preventive strategies that cut down on injuries. Here’s an example of a great resource: (sources:,

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