For the parent of a kid who loves sports, it can be a vexing decision: should I let my child play tackle football?
The uncertainty is understandable, given today’s headlines. Passion for the game runs deep in this part of the country, but so do concerns about helmet-to-helmet contact and its potential impact on young brains. Mount Pleasant Recreation Department is changing its youth football program to place a heightened emphasis on participant safety.
“In sports but especially in football, the concussion issue has become more prevalent,” says Jimmy Millar, deputy director of Mount Pleasant Recreation. “We want kids to be save and have fun. So what we want to do is make small modifications this year to ease those concerns about concussions.”
The change begins with 8-year-olds, for whom tackle football will no longer be an option. Instead, they will have access to flag football — an activity the department offers to children as young as five. The tackle football programs will be regrouped into three levels: 9-to-10-year-olds; 11-to-12-year-olds; and 13-to-14-year-olds.
Mount Pleasant also plans to make youth flag football an option for all participants between the ages of 9 and 14 beginning this winter or by next spring. Children can enjoy the aspects of the game without the full contact associated with youth tackle football.
Played by both boys and girls, flag football is no passing fad. A 2018 Sports & Fitness Industry Association survey found that flag football had surpassed tackle as the most commonly played form of the sport among children between ages 6 and 12. Experts see flag football not only as a better way to protect young brains susceptible to concussions but also as a pathway that can help parents become more comfortable with the game before their children move into the tackle version as teenagers.
Jeff Victoroff, M.D., author of Concussion and Traumatic Encephalopathy: Causes, Diagnosis and Management, concurs. Dr. Victoroff, a Harvard trained neurologist and international authority on concussions, stresses how one hit could alter a child’s brain forever.
“With flag football, the fundamentals are still taught — throwing, passing, running, etc. just without the helmet-to-helmet contact or tackling,” Millar says. “The focus is on skill development and understanding the different elements of football, offensively and defensively.”
Interested in learning more about youth flag and tackle football, or signing up your child to play? Contact Mount Pleasant Recreation at (843) 884-2528, or visit their website to register online.