I’ve written about NFL players who have committed suicide because their brains had acquired permanent, personality-altering changes. I’ve written about state legislation on how schools must respond to student athlete injuries. I’ve met with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to find out what parents of athletes must know about concussions and sport safety.
So the decision to have our six-year-old son start sports this fall was not one we took lightly. Our son is the youngest of our four children and has Asperger Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. Up until now, he’s never shown an interest in playing team sports, and we’ve never pushed it; he had enough going on.
At the start of this school year, he asked to play soccer. Our middle daughter, who is eight, said she’d like to give it a try, too. (Previously she has only played softball.)
While soccer isn’t as full-on contact as football, it’s definitely rough-and-tumble. In fact, a study published earlier this year in the American Journal of Sports Medicine found that girls’ soccer comes in second after football in the number of concussions. “Heading” the ball has been banned in at least one youth soccer program because it’s been linked to “frontal lobe damage and weaker verbal and visual recall,” according to a New York Times report.
No one wants to be “that mom” who tells the coaches how to do their job.
So, yes, there is risk involved in every sport. The thing is to be smart about the risks, to take precautions where you can, and to know what the heck is going on with your kid’s team. Many parents hesitate to get involved in what the coaches are doing. No one wants to be “that mom” who tells the coaches how to do their job.
We’re talking about my kids’ brains. I will most definitely be discussing “heading” with our coaches and with the league managers. I’ll be asking how they go about teaching proper form and if they do neck-strengthening exercises. I will be sharing with them the massive amounts of free information and supplies offered by the CDC’s Heads Up! program.
I love sports. I love to watch sports and I love to play sports. I want my kids to have the benefits of exercise and the camaraderie that comes with being on a team. For our son in particular, who struggles to make and keep friends, sports could be the key to finding his social niche. But with the vast knowledge we have at this point, it only makes sense to take all the precautions we can to protect our kids’ developing brains.
“You need to know who your children are with,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, emphasizing that parents shouldn’t hesitate to find out whether practices and games are being held in a safe manner. “If your kid’s coach is having scrimmages at every practice, that’s unacceptable.”
So there you have it. In a friendly, polite way, I’m going to find out what’s going on. And if the coaches don’t like it, I’ll just tell them to take it up with Commissioner Goodell.