Youth Football: How Real Is the Concussion Risk?

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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Concussions in youth sports is a hot news topic. If your child plays football, you may be wondering about the risk of concussion. The fact is, that risk is very real. However, keep in mind that concussions can be prevented and most athletes make a full recovery.

What You Need to Know About Youth Football and Concussions

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury. When a blow to the body or head occurs, it causes the brain to move around in the skull. This damages cells and creates chemical changes in the brain. Most concussions in football are the result of helmet-to-helmet contact.

Concussions make the brain more vulnerable to further injury until it heals. Playing sports with a concussion can lead to long-term issues and can even be fatal. 

Concussions are an epidemic in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Between 2001 and 2009, emergency room visits for concussions among 8- to 13-year-olds increased 62%. However, one reason for the spike in visits is increased awareness about the importance of seeking immediate medical attention for head injuries.

A recent study in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the risk of concussions among 8- to 12-year-old tackle football players. In the study of 468 young athletes, 20 concussions occurred in 20 boys. Concussions were about 2.5 times more likely to occur in 11- to 12-year-old players compared with 8- to 10-year-olds. According to the findings, for every 1,000 athletic exposures—that’s each time a child steps onto a field for practice or a game—slightly more than two concussions occur in 11- to 12-year-olds. 

Stay Ahead of Concussions

Here’s how young athletes can prevent concussions:

  • Always wear your helmet and protective equipment. Always use them properly. Keep the chin strap on your helmet buckled at all times.
  • Attend practices to learn proper techniques for blocking and tackling.
  • Never lower your head during a hit.

If you have any signs of a concussion or just don’t feel right, stop playing immediately and tell an adult. Signs of a concussion include:

Follow the Heads Up Action Plan

The CDC developed Heads Up: Concussion in Youth Sports for coaches, parents and athletes. Here is their four-step action plan when a concussion is suspected:

  1. Remove the athlete from play if the child is showing signs or symptoms of a concussion after a bump or blow to the head. 
  2. Have the athlete evaluated by a medical professional. Don’t try and make a diagnosis on your own.
  3. Inform the parents or guardians about the possibility of concussion. This way, the parents can watch for developing signs of concussion throughout the day and when the child returns to school.
  4. Clear the athlete for play. Don’t allow the child to play again until a medical professional says it’s OK.
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Nov 17
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

  1. CDC finds 60 percent increase in youth athletes treated for TBIs. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  2. Heads up, concussion in football. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  3. Heads up, concussion in youth sports: a fact sheet for coaches. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  4. Kontos AP, Elbin RJ, Fazio-Sumrock VC, et al. Incidence of sports-related concussion among youth football players aged 8-12 years. The Journal of Pediatrics. September 2013;163(3): 717-20.