“Kids should not be allowed to play contact sports.”
This statement will most likely elicit strong emotions and varying opinions, particularly among athletes, their parents and families, coaches, sports medicine professionals, researchers…
Are Dr. Omalu’s recommendations well founded and justified?
Although research does demonstrate an increased risk of concussion for children participating in contact sports (McKee et al., 2014), is putting an end to contact sports for youth athletes the best solution? We asked several members of the sports community to share their opinions with us!
(Please note that this article contains personal opinions, based on personal experience and/or scientific evidence; the content of this article does not necessarily reflect the C-CENTRE’s opinion – we invite you to share your comments on our Facebook page or by e-mail : email@example.com).
The C-CENTRE team contacted a total of 50 people – athletes, coaches, healthcare professionals, researchers, teachers, and parents. We shared Dr. Bennett Omalu’s article with them and asked them to share their thoughts and opinions based on his recommendations. The result? A diversity of responses and reactions – an exchange of very interesting opinions! You can read full comments and opinions by clicking here.
The majority of responses were comprised of individuals favouring a middle ground, as opposed to radical solutions:
“While it is reassuring to see that experts are in a better position to be heard [on the subject of concussions] […] it is nevertheless necessary not to make radical decisions. Several negative factors threaten our youth, yet it’s not best to ban them all. Should we ban fast food, or rather better educate children and their parents? I would favour the second option. Should contact sports be banned? I don’t think so. The key is the coaching and the quality of the interventions of the medical team surrounding the athletes. […] We must teach athletes proper tackling techniques, how to properly check and how to take care of their bodies, and contact sports such as rugby, hockey and football, will be able to continue to make positive contributions to the development of our youth and our society,” François Rodrigue, doctoral candidate, part-time professor and assistant coach (football) at the University of Ottawa.
As individuals shared their opinions, recurring comments included the importance of education and the presence of a medical team; according to the physician, Dr. Maxime Chabot: “[…] Instead, athletes need to be monitored and structured supervision must be provided to better manage concussions. [We must] educate athletes [on the importance of reporting their] symptoms.” Dr. Philippe Fait, professor-researcher in athletic therapy at the Université de Québec à Trois-Rivières, explains that research demonstrates that the majority of concussions occur from contact between athletes: ”[…] Better identification of the situations which can lead to concussions would provide information on important changes to be made regarding rules and regulations to allow for safer participation in recreational and sports activities.” Removing contact for younger athletes to allow for more time to learn about the sport and improve technique seemed to be a good solution for some individuals, including Cédric Amessan, football player at the University of Ottawa. Cédric sees a decrease in contact for youth athletes to be ”a step in the right direction”. Charles Routhier, high school teacher, football coach and rugby player, wants the emphasis in contact sport to be put on athlete development and player safety:
“[Certain cities in Quebec] have removed contact in youth football until Secondary 3. Personally, I completely agree with this because it allows for the focus to be on other aspects of the sport: agility, reading the game, speed, execution. If we teach this to the athletes first, I have the impression that the kids will try to avoid contact and try not to “smash” [their opponents]. Several coaches will probably refuse to accept the science behind this because they will base their opinions on personal anecdotes, but I know that others will be open to changing their coaching methods, maybe even change the sport a little bit, to protect the health of our youth.”
“With what we know now, we absolutely need to restructure sport and ensure that rules and regulations reflect our scientific knowledge – specifically by minimizing impacts to the head. I think it starts with educating the population as a whole. That being said, sport in itself is an integral, or necessary, part of a child’s life with its benefits to both physical and mental health. All sports, both contact and non-contact, can contribute to developing good work ethic, discipline, only to name a few. […] We can’t prevent every injury, but there are many modifications that can be made to ensure increased protection, both short and long-term, for our children. Does that means only allowing full contact sport at [the age of] 18? I’m not sure that would be the solution; I see more of a progressive integration in a safe and controlled environment. With an ever-growing body of knowledge in this field, we have the obligation to stay up-to-date on the recommendations to protect our athletes,” Bianca Brigitte Rock, certified athletic therapist, doctoral candidate, and part-time professor at the University of Ottawa and the Université de Québec à Trois-Rivières.
Parents also have a role to play, according to Jennifer O’Neil, physiotherapist, doctoral candidate and part-time professor at the University of Ottawa: “[…] As a mother of a little boy, I find myself torn between knowing the benefits that sport can bring while better understanding the downfall of brain injury. When Dr. Omalu urges parents to ask themselves if they love the sport more than their child, I can see how this can become a moral dilemma. Parents need to better understand the brain injury possibilities as well as their consequences. […] Although, I truly think restricting the participation of high head injury incident sports for the young ones is the ultimate way to prevent detrimental damage to the brain, I am not convinced that society is ready to follow these recommendations." Former NCAA Division I football player, Raymond Ndjonok Tonye, now development and human potential coach, explains the role that football played in his life: “We simply cannot 100% deny [Dr. Omalu’s statement, but] his conclusions are incomplete and radical. We need to find a middle ground. […] With everything that my sport has given me, I couldn’t stop my children from playing, [for the benefits] in physical and psychological development. Football [was a tool] that allowed me to evolve in life.”
Head coach for the University of Ottawa men’s rugby team, Stephanie Crawley comments on her role as a coach as well as a mother: “I lean towards the benefits of sport especially with the rise in obesity and technology-related isolation. […] Good coaching at an early age, when you learn contact, is critical. Contact sports should be graduated contact, starting with touch. Coaching, identification and management of head injury, and [having] a reporting system are key.”
John Boulay, certified athletic therapist, osteopath and part-time university professor, does not want this statement to incite fear in the general population: “A little sensationalism goes a long way. Yes, [we] need to get the message out, but this is going to scare a lot of people for nothing. […] Should start with better management and full recovery of any suspected concussion and we’re making strides.” Amy Barrette, certified athletic therapy for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey Ligue, agrees: “[…] If we [healthcare professionals] continue to mobilize [our efforts] to properly inform the sports population on mTBI [mild traumatic brain injuries], we will contribute to a significant decrease in this type of injury.”
Do you think that the risk outweigh the benefits in contact sport?
We would like to thank all athletes, parents, coaches, healthcare professionals, researchers and professors for their participation in this article!
(You can read full comments and opinions here.)
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