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Youth flag football may not be safer than tackle football

Study reports: “Injury is more likely to occur in youth flag football than in youth tackle football”

Taken from: Youth Football Injuries: A Prospective Cohort. Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine – University of Iowa Health Care

How safe is flag football? After all, it’s designed to reduce collisions.
Have you ever watched a game or practice?  It’s like tag on steroids.  Although tackling has been eliminated, there are plenty of collisions – with other players, and the ground — that could produce injury.  So coaches need to teach kids how to fall properly and also instruct children to let the coaches know when they’re not feeling well, or injured.  Injuries often result when youngsters are tired and not able to perform the skills correctly or when they’re “playing through pain” – a lesson still taught by too many adults.

 

Let’s start with the safety question. How safe – or how dangerous – is it for children to play tackle football?

It’s often difficult to measure the relative risk of participating in different sports because of methodological shortcomings in the current pediatric injury literature. Many parents rely upon anecdotal evidence or sensational news stories to make decisions about whether or not their child should participate in a given sport.  

In tackle football, or any other sport, safety is an attitude, not something you can really measure. We can take some measure of risk, but even there, the statistics are incomplete, because they’re based on emergency-room visits. Parents often take their children to their own pediatricians or treat injuries at home if they don’t have adequate medical insurance.

University of Iowa studied three different leagues and in their preliminary results in their presentation to the American Academy of Pediatrics reported that the ratio of injuries from tackle / flag  was .4511, with 0.7 concussions per 1,000 exposures in the tackle leagues and  1.3 concussions per 1,000 exposures in flag football. The flag league actually reported a higher rate of total injuries

University of Iowa Health Care researchers report that the results of a study of injury rates in youth football leagues did not show that flag football is safer than tackle football.

Concerns about the rate of concussions among athletes and the long term effects of repeated head injuries lead to discussion that children under the age of 12 should not participate in contact sports such as tackle football.

The UI researchers studied three large youth football leagues with almost 3,800 participants. The research team compared the number of injuries, severe injuries, and concussions in players competing on flag football teams and tackle football squads.

The results of the study, published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, showed that injuries were more likely to occur in youth flag football than in youth tackle football. There was no significant difference in the number of severe injuries and concussions between the leagues.

“We wanted to test the hypothesis that not allowing tackling might reduce the risk for injury in young athletes,” said Andrew Peterson, MD, a specialist with UI Sports Medicine and the study’s lead author. “Based upon our results, we cannot conclude that youth flag football is safer than youth tackle football.”

The researchers found that the number of injuries in youth football players is relatively low overall, but sports-related injuries remain the leading cause of injury among children and adolescents. About 2.8 million people between the ages of six and 14 participate in youth football in the U.S.

“We hope that this information will help families as they make decisions about a child’s participation in youth football, either in flag or tackle leagues, said Peterson.

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