Enrolment numbers in football have been dropping over the past few seasons in Sylvan Lake.
Sylvan Lake Minor Football Association President Jeremy Braitenback says it is a trend being seen in football everywhere.
In October 2019 the Concussion Legacy Foundation released a “Tackle Can Wait” PSA likening youth tackle football to smoking cigarettes.
The video states kids who start tackle football at the age of five versus 14 are 10 times more likely to get CTE paralleling it with how starting to smoke at a younger age leads to more time to being exposed to the risks.
The Concussion Legacy Foundation, via the Boston University CTE Center, cites Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) as a degenerative brain disease found in athletes, military veterans and others with a history of repetitive brain trauma.
They also state the disease has been seen in people as young as 17, but generally symptoms do not appear until years after the onset of head injuries.
Braitenback says the comparison is unfair and the sport is safer now than it has been in the past.
“We’re seeing those [enrolment] numbers drop definitely, so we’re sort of trying to put our side out there for people to understand,” said Braitenback.
He says concussions have been sensationalized due to the professional football players who have been diagnosed with CTE.
“They went through that period where they would smash their heads together because this was the way the game was meant to be played… well that led to a lot of problems, so things have definitely changed.”
Over the years the sport itself has changed with better coaching and better playing techniques, as well as better technology in helmets to reduce the chance of concussion.
“We’ve reduced so many of the concussion in this sport over the last 10 years because of the efforts and the awareness that we’re making,” he added.
A concussion protocol is also mandated from Football Canada, which does not allow a concussed athlete to return to play until they receive clearance from a doctor.
“All of our coaches are instructed on recognizing signs of it and knowing immediately that they have to remove that athlete from play,” said Braitenback, adding the players can be taken to have athletic and physiotherapy to recover.
The coaches are all required to take an online course to learn to look for certain signs and symptoms in their players.
Aside from reacting to hits, Braitenback says the awareness piece plays a large role in contact sports like football and hockey.
“People do everything in their life that has certain risks and you can get a concussion in so many other ways,” he said, adding it’s all about the approach you take.
“If you listen to the coaches and you take care of your helmet properly you’re going to reduce your chances of getting a concussion greatly.”
Some leagues are switching to flag football for younger athletes to keep them away from impacts during their brain’s developing years, which Braitenback says is a nice option, but replacing tackle football isn’t the answer.
In his opinion, a kid who misses out on being taught how to play the game properly, tackling and blocking, and decides to join later will be at a disadvantage.
Braitenback added football is a good game and parents and kids should have the option to do either one.
“The game is much safer now than it’s ever been before and I agree that in the past there was a lot of lack of information and education on concussions, people just brushed it off,” said Braitenback, who played tackle football himself for over a decade.
“We do need to take it like a very serious injury and that’s how the game is changing and adapting.”