A recent long-term study of football’s effects on young players was conducted by Dr. Robert Stern and his colleagues at Boston University. Boston University has been the epicenter for football concussion studies. In this study 214 former players with an average age of 51 were reviewed. 43 had played through high school, 103 through college and 68 were previously in the NFL. Players in all groups had a two-fold risk of behavioral regulation problems, apathy and executive functioning difficulties. Those who played at the NFL level had a three-fold risk of elevated depression scores.
Dr. Stern noted that players who began tackle football before 10-12 years of age were likely to experience problems later in life. These findings are consistent with an earlier study published by Boston University and reported here in NeuroNotes. Other studies have indicated that players who started before age 12 had diminished mental flexibility compared to those who started after age 12.
The formative years in brain growth and development can be negatively affected by repetitive impacts to the brain. Football has been at the cross hairs of this problem due to it’s popularity and the early age at which football is introduced to children. The Pop Warner League is the subject of a class action suit stemming from brain injuries problems occurring later in life. Even the NFL has made recommendations to adapt the game and support flag football for youth.
There is ample reason for concern and to limit the risk for brain injuries to children and youth involved in contact sports. Childhood brain injuries can cause significant problems later in life which can be prevented.