Participation in youth football on the decline

The chief medical officer for the Pop Warner youth football league believes that concern over head injuries has led to a decline in participation. Photo by Flickr User wynner3

The recent spotlight on concussions in the National Football League appears to be having a significant effect on participation in youth football programs. Pop Warner, America’s largest youth football program, saw membership decline by 9.5 percent from 2010 to 2012.

According to a report from ESPN.com, the organization lost 23,612 players in the last two years. The 2010 season saw a record high participation of 248,899 children, but by 2012 that number fell to 225,287.

Officials from Pop Warner told ESPN’s Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada that there are several factors contributing to the decline, but the program’s chief medical officer believes the number one cause is concerns about head injuries.
Other youth football leagues have been experiencing similar declining involvement rates. USA Football, a national governing body partially funded by the NFL, reported that participation among players ages 6 to 14 dropped to 2.8 million from 3 million, in 2011 alone.

The NFL Players Union estimates that 60 to 70 percent of all NFL players began playing football in the Pop Warner program. But there is concern about the effect head injuries will have on the developing brains of young players.

Many former professional football players have openly blamed an array of neurological diseases, including dementia and a condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, on head injuries they sustained while playing in the NFL. The National Football League recently reached a $765 million settlement with former players who have brain-related illnesses.

In 2012, Pop Warner cut back on the amount of tackling allowed during practices, but some believe that more needs to be done to avoid head to head collisions.

Pop Warner’s Medical Advisory Committee is expected to make more rule changes in the coming months.