Photo: Bely Medved (Flickr)
Some Indiana high schools are seeing fewer students trying out for their football teams this year, and coaches attribute the drop in part to increased awareness of concussions.
When Carmel High School head football coach Kevin Wright saw that 25 fewer kids signed up for the freshman football team this year than last year, he decided to do some digging.
He called around to other schools and found out many of them were also seeing a decline, as were the area’s middle schools and youth league.
The three middle schools in Carmel had fewer than 180 students playing football in 7th and 8th grade compared to 240 four years prior. The youth fall football league had similar results. It signed up 550 players this year compared to more than 850 players four years ago.
The trend now being seen in Carmel and other school districts isn’t limited to Indiana. An ESPN report from last fall showed the nation’s largest youth football league, Pop Warner, saw a nearly 10 percent drop in participation from 2010 to 2012.
Wright says he thinks one factor is the heightened awareness of concussions.
“I think it’s the perfect storm,” he says. “Football is still the number one participation sport for youth in the United States, and, as a result, most of the stories are marketed toward that.”
Wright says the declines are most pronounced in the more affluent neighborhoods where more parents are aware of the latest news and regulations about concussions.
For example, there’s been a lot of talk about the state law that went into effect earlier this month mandating high school and youth football coaches receive concussion training.
“To me the irony is why is that pinpointed at football coaches as opposed to all youth coaches?” Wright asks, arguing that singling out football is pushing athletes into other sports.
Methodist Sports Medicine neurosurgeon Terry Horner says he expects the legislature to expand the law to include more sports in the near future, and he says it’s really more about changing the culture of athletics in general to become more conscious of safety.
“I think it’s all the things that we can do to change the mindset of the public, the press, the kids and the coaches and administrators,” Horner says. “I think that’s going to help prevent it, but we have to do the guidelines that we have now to determine when they have a concussion.”
Horner says while there is still risk, if football coaches and players follow the recommended safety guidelines, they should be able to significantly cut down on the frequency of concussions.
Wright says he hopes the pendulum will soon start to swing the other way with enough safety regulations going into place that parents feel comfortable allowing their children to play football.
Both ESPN and Wright offer one other explanation for the decline though. There’s been a steady trend toward athletes focusing on a single sport.
Rather than playing football in the fall and basketball in the winter, for example, kids will play basketball year-round. Wright again points out that this trend is more pronounced in affluent neighborhoods where parents are able to pay to put their children on more expensive “elite” teams.