Both versions of football can be dangerous to children when they play the game at any age. As we understand the risks associated with a concussion, parents are taking proactive steps to ensure their safety as much as possible. In the soccer version of football, that means the youth game at the FIFA level is stopping headers until the kids are mature enough to handle that action.
In the gridiron version of football played primarily in the United States, the decision is more with the parents than the overseers of the game. New technologies are making helmets safer, but there is still a risk of a head injury, one which is greater than in most other sports.
Because of the risks of CTE and other conditions associated with concussions, some parents are deciding to keep their child out of football altogether. These families look to other contact sports instead where the risks are lower, such as martial arts. Others are accepting the risks, relying on technology and coaching to ensure their child stays as safe as possible when they step on the field.
Should parents let their child play football? Here are some of the pros and cons to consider with this big decision.
List of the Pros of Letting Children Play Football
1. It gives children an opportunity to be mentally and physically active.
In an era where esports are on the rise and kids can win millions of dollars when they excel, it might seem like video games are a safe ticket to a good life. Physical sports still play a role in the physical development of children, and this benefit cannot be ignored. Kids need to be moving to reduce their risks of obesity. Being involved in a favorite sport is a fantastic way to stay healthy.
Even though there is a risk of head injury in football to consider, other physical sports have similar risks. Shoulder injuries are common in baseball and tennis. You will find knee injuries in running sports and in soccer. For many families, the benefits here outweigh the potential risks that kids face when playing.
2. Football can teach children how to work collaboratively.
Our world continues to become an interconnected wonderland of collaboration and productivity. We need team players now more than ever to get stuff done. When kids are playing football, then coaches are pointing out poor techniques and mistakes to help each child improve. Learning how to manage this feedback in positive ways allows for skills in this area to start growing. There is a give-and-take between athletes and coaches that makes these kids more likely to handle stress and competition when they become adults.
3. Youth sports can improve self-esteem and efficacy.
When kids have an opportunity to build skills in an area of life that is important to them, then it can enhance their self-esteem everywhere. Going from being barely able to hold a football to scoring touchdowns consistently will boost the individual ego. Parents and coaches who can help children gain efficacy in a specific area creates more opportunities for listening and self-awareness. These attributes can then lead to an invaluable and important connection where the kids can connect their efforts to their goals.
4. Football teaches children an essential work ethic.
Sports like football require kids to have effort and commitment every time they step onto the practice field. These traits will serve them well when they reach adulthood. Children can apply the aptitude for working hard and putting out a robust effort from their athletics to almost anything else that happens in their lives. Homework, hobbies, or efforts at personal betterment all see this advantage create positive changes. Excellence comes about because of the work we put into it, creating a solid foundation that can lead toward long-term success.
“You do lots of different types of training when you play football,” says Dr. Michael Behr, and orthopedic surgeon at Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta, Georgia, “from sprints to distance running, or interval training to weightlifting. It’s really a good overall health benefit to someone in any age ground.”
5. Youth sports can lead kids toward a positive body image.
One of the most significant problems with social media today is that it seems like everyone is living a perfect life. If you can’t replicate that result, then it creates feelings of inferiority. When these perfect-looking people are part of a child’s life, their self-image can be adversely impacted by those interactions. Although playing football (or any youth sport) is not an antidote to this issue, the effort at playing and becoming better can lead to pride in one’s fitness and shape.
Kids can learn through athletics that the rigid standards of beauty or acceptance don’t need to apply to their lives. If they feel like there is success being found on the gridiron, then that can lead to positive feelings about who they are as a person.
6. It helps children to form resilience against the pressures of the average day.
Kids in the fifth grade and higher can struggle at times with the rigors of their school schedule. There are feelings of being overwhelmed that can cause them to underperform in the classroom. It is an issue that can even impact their grades. Parents can make this issue even worse by advocating for them, protecting them from “defeat” by doing their homework or talking to administrators to change the grades of their child.
Playing football means there are no protections from defeat. You must become resilient against the feelings that losing can provide. Parents cannot protect their children from the hardship of what the scoreboard displays.
7. Football leads to better time management and self-regulation.
When kids combine their school activities with sports, then there must be an ability to self-regulate on multiple levels. You need to get to practice on time, have the proper equipment, and avoid activities that could waste their time – like video games or social media. You must learn when to say no, and then have the ability to implement that skill to stay focused on your sports development.
Most student-athletes get better grades during football season then they do otherwise because their sport forces them to take an organized approach to their practices, games, and schoolwork.
8. There are healthy moments of socialization when playing football.
When you join a competitive football team, then it feels like you are part of an extended family. Your kids are going to spend plenty of hours working with their teammates on the field. There are road trips that you spend together, sideline times when you cheer each other on, and then all of the after-game dinners and parties that happen. Even if every other aspect of life is entirely different and you would disagree on everything, families still stay held together because there is a common love for what happens on the gridiron. It is not unusual to make lifelong friends by playing this game.
9. It improves a child’s concentration.
Playing football forces kids to focus on what they are doing at all times. You cannot afford to let your guard down when you are on the gridiron because then you could become a casualty on that play. If you don’t give your best at each moment, then it’s not just yourself that you let down when this issue occurs. You are also letting down your teammates. By practicing on how to concentrate on one element of technique repetitively to improve it, then this skill can translate to the classroom, home environment, and a future career. As children get older and can apply this advantage in real-life situations, they could have an advantage over those who didn’t play football or other youth sports.
List of the Cons of Letting Children Play Football
1. Youth sports can adversely impact a child’s identity.
How your child defines themselves shouldn’t be closely tied to their performance on the football field. Scoring touchdowns is essential for gameplay situations, but it is not going to become who they are in life. Even professional football players start another career once their playing time is over. If there is no wiggle room between who a kid is and how they perform, then a bad day can lead to feelings of low self-esteem and failure. How people define losing is what helps to create their long-term character. It is important to remember that kids are always winners in their home environment.
2. You can run into some poor coaches in youth football.
Most youth coaches are volunteering their time and effort to get kids to play football in your community. There is an element of respect that comes with this volunteering. That doesn’t mean your coach is going to be positive and supportive. There are plenty of them out there, especially in the gridiron version of this sport, who come from a negative approach instead. Demoralizing kids while they are just starting to learn the game can drive them away from it for life.
When there is a win-at-all-costs mentality, some coaches can even stoop to bullying as a way to “motivate” kids to do what is needed to win. Parents need to be on the lookout for coaches who call out or embarrass players, teach through humiliation, and don’t provide components of role modeling.
3. It can lead to scholarship delusions.
With college tuition costs continuing to rise, many parents see youth sports as a lifeline to a better career. Even if their child never makes it to the National Football League, a Division I NCAA scholarship would create career opportunities that might not be available otherwise. The only problem with this approach is that playing football is a false hope. The odds of earning a full ride are about the same as winning the lottery. If a child bases their identity on an ability to make it to college because of their athletics, then failing to do so could impact their entire life.
4. There is a risk of a lifelong injury occurring.
In a study of more than 5,100 boys under 150 pounds who played football, the rate of significant injury within the research group was 5%. 61% of the kids experiences a moderate injury of some type, while almost 39% had a “major” injury. Although no catastrophic injuries happened and permanent disability was rare, parents are managing significant physical health concerns when their kids play this sport.
The physical nature of football does increase the risk of a catastrophic incident too. Deaths on high school football fields are a rare, but reliable tragedy. There were 4 million youth up to the age of 18 playing the sport in 2017, and of that figure, 13 died as a result of direct or indirect play.
5. It causes parents to become over-invested in the sport.
There is no doubt that parents invest a lot of time and money to get their children into youth football. One of the key signs that a family is over-invested is when they celebrate after a victory, telling their child that “we” or “they” won. This approach can lead to unconscious choices or behaviors that can adversely impact youth athletes. Have you ever seen someone scream at their child for missing a catch or a tackle?
Kids interpret this behavior as having their love tied to the performance they give on the field. The reality of family is that children need their parents the most when something bad happens.
6. Playing youth football can lead to performance pressure.
Youth athletes get a lot of pressure from their organization, team, coaching staff, and parents to perform perfectly every time they step onto the field. It is imperative that we all remember that these are kids we are talking about here – not professional athletes earning a paycheck. There is a desire to demand more if a child wants to be successful, but it is essential to remember that they are still kids. There will be days when they look like they’ll be headed to the NFL, and then there will be moments when it looks like they don’t care.
7. Playing football can lead to inappropriate superiority perspectives.
Schools, clubs, and towns often give youth athletes more attention than other students. There might be better privileges because a child is playing football. It can lead to the idea that the athlete or their parents are above the law or what should happen at school. When kids start showing a lack of empathy or lose their humility, then there is an excellent chance that the sport is starting to bring out the worst in that household.
8. There are financial costs to consider when playing football.
If your child plays competitive youth football, then there are some financial costs for you to consider. Between the equipment purchases or rentals, field use, tournament entries, coaching stipends, and travel costs, you could be paying close to $10,000 per year to have your child playing this game. That’s one of the reasons why parents place so much pressure on their kids to succeed. Even on the low end of the pricing spectrum, regional clubs that play primarily at the recreational level are still charging $1,500 or so for the privilege of playing football.
9. Kids have less free time available to them when playing sports.
Imagine that you are managing the schedules of three children, and each of them are in a different sport. You must balance the practice schedules, games, and the other elements of team life that bring about all of the positives that come with youth sports. That also means there are fewer moments of down time that the kids get because you are always running around to each event. This disadvantage even occurs at the rec level. There are going to be fewer extracurricular activities, more nights and weekends booked, and less time to spend with friends outside of their chosen sport.
10. There are congenital physical risks to consider with football.
High schools are putting physicians on the sidelines during football games to reduce the risk of injuries by practicing sports medicine immediately. If a doctor is not available, then the school’s trainer is there to evaluate players immediately. There are some problems that are congenital that can escape detection when kids play, such as an enlarged heart, and that could lead to life-threatening risks as well.
Verdict of the Pros and Cons of Parents Letting Their Child Play Football
Parents must become aware of the psychological risks that come with participation in football and all other youth sports. There must also be an understanding of the physical risks that happen as well. When this issue can be balanced with the positives that are possible, then it can be a lot of fun to play on the gridiron.
Kids will leave a sport they love when the time they spend playing it is no longer fun. These are the moments when there is the potential to hurt a child instead of helping them. If you catch yourself in this space, then it is time to stop and reevaluate the approach you are taking.
Should parents let their kids play football? If there is excellent coaching and modern protective equipment, then the fun that a child has can create rewards which last for a lifetime. When the pressures are high and the atmosphere is demeaning, then the opposite occurs.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.