Is 13 too young for tackle football?

Oct 30, 2012, 3:26 PM | Updated: Nov 1, 2012, 6:19 am
There's a battle brewing over how old kids should have to be to play sports like football, hockey and soccer. (AP Photo/file)
(AP Photo/file)

At what age is it safe for kids to play tackle football or body check in hockey?

There’s a battle brewing in Switzerland over that question. A world-renowned concussion expert says we should set an age limit on letting kids participate, but a local doctor thinks that is a terrible idea.

Dr. Robert Cantu is a professor of Neurosurgey at the Boston University School of Medicine. He is one of the featured speakers at the 4th Annual International Consensus Conference on Concussion at the FIFA Headquarters in Zurich.

Dr. Cantu is proposing that children under the age of 14 should not be allowed to take part in the more dangerous aspects of sports like football, hockey and soccer.

“The scientific evidence that age 14 is the right age, is a bit of a stretch,” counters Dr. Stan Herring, Director of Sports and Orthopedic Medicine at the UW Medical Center.

Dr. Herring is also a team physician for the Seahawks and the Mariners. He is attending the conference in Switzerland, in part, to counter Dr. Cantu’s recommendation.

He says he hasn’t seen any evidence that 14-year-olds are better able to handle the damage done by a concussion than are kids who are 12 or 13. Herring also worries an age limit would give parents a false sense of security.

“I don’t want parents to allow their parents to participate in sports thinking that all safety measures have been met. We just don’t know,” says Herring.

Washington passed the ground breaking Lystedt Law on youth concussions in 2009. It has now been copied by 40 other states, and Herring argues this is a better approach. Herring will be presenting Lystedt at the conference in Zurich.

The law includes specific guidelines about how teams have to treat kids who may have suffered a concussion during a practice or a game. It also requires parents and athletes to be given information ahead of time about how to spot the injury.

“Sports is really pretty safe for most kids, and even most concussions are safe,” Herring says. “The great majority of people who suffer concussions get better, but not everyone does.”

At the end of the conference, the experts will try to find consensus. They will be writing a paper to detail what they believe are the best practices for avoiding concussion. Herring says it’s important because their recommendation will likely be a reference for sports organizations around the world.

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Is 13 too young for tackle football?