Letter From a Long-Time Coach

Letter: Don’t let young kids play tackle football 

By Bill Perkins  

It doesn’t surprise me that children 8 to 14 years old want to play tackle football. What surprises me is that any parents allow it.

I love football. I coached high school and college football for 37 years. I’ve seen my share of concussions and traumatic brain injuries (some requiring players to drop out of school to recover); ACL tears and subsequent surgery and nine months or more of painful rehabilitation. I’ve witnessed neck and spinal cord injuries; one resulting in the player becoming a quadriplegic. Other serious injuries included broken femurs, dislocated elbows (both requiring surgery), etc.

These injuries were all tragic. Short term — they were painful and required long rehabilitation. Long term — the effects won’t be known for decades (early dementia, premature knee and hip replacement surgery, etc.).

In all the above cases these were highly trained, well coached, well equipped college or high school players. The pain and suffering as a result of traumatic injury to a college or high school athlete is devastating. I can’t imagine the effect of these types of injuries happening to a child aged 11 to 14.

There are many reasons to not allow young children to play tackle football and few, if any, reasons to allow them to play. Most of the skills kids will need to be compete in high school football can be developed by playing flag football or even just playing anything (soccer, track, basketball, etc.). Blocking and tackling can and should wait until high school when children’s bodies are more mature and resilient and the coaches are well trained, skilled and experienced.

Here is a list of reasons why to not allow kids to play youth tackle football (pre-high school, Pop Warner/Parks and Recreation):

1. Lack of trained and experienced coaches: The highest level of coaching is NFL, next is collegiate, followed by high school and finally youth football. Consider the words of Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter, “Our worst coaches are coaching the most critical position, and that is the 9, 10, 11-year-olds … “

2. Lack of certified training staff at practices: Many, if not most, concussions occur in practice and many are not diagnosed even at the highest levels of coaching. Certified trainers are an integral part of injury treatment and diagnosis as well as prevention.

3. Risk of head and neck trauma: Current research indicates that much of the permanent damage to the brain is the result of repetitive concussion syndrome. The brains of younger children are more vulnerable than when those same children are older and more physically developed. Consider the words of physician Ann McKee, chief neuropathologist at Boston University who explains, “Because a young athlete’s brain is still developing, the effects of a concussion, or even many smaller hits over a season, can be far more detrimental, compared to the head injury of an older player.”

4. Risk of injuries other than concussion: ACL tears requiring surgery and months of rehabilitation. Spinal cord injury and possible loss of mobility as a result.

List of reasons to allow kids to play tackle football prior to high school:

1. I’ll have to think about it and get back to you …

Pre-high school tackle football should be outlawed. I was shocked to learn recently that Bend-La Pine Schools support and sponsor middle school tackle football. Why? Especially when there is no correlation between youth football success and high school football success.

Football is a wonderful sport, but it should be illegal to subject young children to the brutality of tackle football before they are physically ready. It simply isn’t worth the risk.

I encourage all of you and especially the school board and the Bend Park and Recreation leadership to view the documentary, “The United States of Football.”

“Dancing is a contact sport … football is a collision sport.” — Vince Lombardi.

Let ’em play anything and everything except tackle football until they get to high school … please!

— Bill Perkins lives in Bend.

Posted in Youth, Youth & High School and tagged , , , , , .