To the editor:

Every year, an estimated 3.8 million people are admitted into hospitals across the nation because of concussions.

Young athletes are the likeliest victims.

In a trend that is becoming more prevalent across the nation, fewer children are participating in youth sports because of the fear of concussions. This begs the question, do the benefits of youth sports outweigh the risks of concussions?

The perception of concussions has changed in the course of a few decades. Only a decade ago, if an athlete received a blow to the head and was slow to get up they were said to have gotten their “bell rung” and would receive a pat on the back and sent back in to play. Nowadays people know better, so when an athlete receives a hit of that caliber they are immediately removed from play and assessed by a trainer using a set of standardized tests before they can return to play.

A concussion is any injury that is caused by a sudden impact to the head. This means that concussions are more likely for athletes in contact sports such as football or hockey. 

Imagine putting an egg inside a cup and shaking it a few times. As you can imagine, the egg is probably cracked from this experience. This shows what the brain goes through during a collision. The results seem gnarly, so why would anyone subject their kids to these risks?

For some, the benefits of youth sports are more important than the risks of concussions. Youth sports have a variety of benefits, such as building teamwork, improving critical thinking and maintaining fitness. For kids, learning to work as a member of a group is an important skill for their future lives, and youth sports provide a way for kids to learn this skill by working with a team for a common goal. 

Youth sports are also shown to improve the critical thinking of those who participate, as well as keep kids in physical shape. In sports, athletes have to make complex decisions in a rapid sequence in order to be effective. This allows kids to be better problem solvers later in life. By participating in sports, kids are able to burn off energy and create healthy habits that they will be more likely to maintain throughout life, which is becoming important as the rates of childhood obesity continue to rise.

While these are all benefits, we need to consider the other side of the coin. What are the dangers of concussions?

For athletes who experience concussions, the symptoms can vary based on the severity of the impact. For some athletes, a minor headache is the only effect while others can experience temporary blindness and mood changes. A concussion may require hospitalization.

According to medical researchers from the University of North Carolina, those who suffered chronic concussions are “twice as likely to suffer depression and aggression” than those who don’t suffer concussions. Another danger is the link between concussions and Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain disorder. The idea of childhood injuries leading to hidden neurological damage is a scary.

To combat this fear, solutions are in the works. The NFL is working with engineers to develop helmets for youth football that could reduce the impact force of collisions. Another group of researchers is testing technology that provides athletes with protection from concussions. With these developments, maybe parents of the future won’t have to worry about youth athletes experiencing concussions.

For now, parents have a choice between the benefits of youth sports and the dangers of concussions. As a former athlete who has experienced both the negatives of concussions and the benefits of youth sports, I am a firm believer that all children should be involved with youth sports at some point in their lives and that the benefits outweigh the dangers. Of course with the risks of concussions, until that risk is reduced I can understand why some would be cautious with the idea of their children participating.

No matter the decision, making an informed choice should be the top priority when considering whether the benefits of youth sports outweigh the risks of concussions for children.

Dustin Minnick