OT: Pop Warner participation decreased 9.5% between 2010-12

Submitted by taistreetsmyhero on November 13th, 2013 at 8:57 PM


Pretty interesting read, if only because of the interviewed sources' different explanations for why this decrease is occurring and their suggested steps to change youth football.

Basically, Pop Warner's chief medical officer blamed parents' fears about their kids getting concussions, but other Pop Warner officials blamed more variable factors like a down economy, and cited a survey saying kids are trending towards only playing 1 sport.

One interesting voice going against the grain:

"But Strickland, who is CEO of the Sports Concussion Institute, said concerns about football and head injuries have outstripped the pace of scientific evidence, creating unwarranted hysteria about the risks of playing football.

"I have felt that the pendulum swung way ahead of the science and what we know," Strickland said."

So, basically, do you think this is a sign of doom for the future of football? Do you think this is insignificant? Do you think football will continue to water down the rules so we will be watching flag football within the next 20 years?



November 13th, 2013 at 9:11 PM ^

All reasons listed are legit reasons for lowered participation. The big one I hear around my area is "my son doesn't want to get hurt" so they can excel in basketball or baseball. They think if they play football, it'll lead to a major injury that would derail their dream of getting a college scholarship. Bunch of BS if you ask me.


November 13th, 2013 at 9:15 PM ^

I have an 8 month old and the only football he's going to be playing is as a kicker. I played football as early as possible up until 9th grade and I love football but it's just not worth it... You can say whatever you want about the hysteria but it's always been common sense that running into another person at full speed and, possibly, head first isn't a good idea. We, as a culture, just ignored it but now the science is finally starting to show up.

the unsilent m…

November 14th, 2013 at 8:06 AM ^

I've always felt that they should run pop warner programs by weight classes, similar to wrestling. There is too much size disparity at young ages. That is what discouraged us from letting our son play. Once high school ball rolls around, then the size classes could be taken away.

One Inch Woody…

November 13th, 2013 at 9:15 PM ^

I wonder how long and how much data will be necessary, but I feel like it will be proven that major head injuries don't really become a factor in football until high school when kids start tackling at high speed and with power. Until then, you might as well let kids experience one of the best team sports out there.


November 13th, 2013 at 9:43 PM ^

pros would have the highest incidence of concussion due to size and power and thus HS would have less risk...the opposite is essentially true. One of the leading issues is size/density of the brain itself. Younger athletes have less musculature in the neck and shoulder girdle not to mention smaller, lighter brains. Adding to that a greater disparity in size from player to player at young ages. This puts them at greater risk of inertia from the impact perspective. Their brains require far less force to create shift inside the skull thus causing greater potential for brain hemorrhage.

In many recent studies it's interior linemen who repeatedly launch then connect, causing the brain to impact who have the highest rate of concussive and sub concussive forces. While we want to believe youth football "has to be safer because kids aren't dying or getting hit as hard" there still isn't enough data to show when the tau proteins start to impact brain function. Considering the kid in PA showed advanced Tau Protein issues even in his teens, it doesn't appear to be a high school and beyond problem.

I love football, my 13 year old plays and dreams of being a Wolverine...but I watch him closely and regardless of my experiences playing, knowing more now doesn't supersede the lack of understanding then. In all honesty perhaps the "worst" development is plastic helmets and face masks. Once players became completely fearless, the speed and aggression ramped up beyond means of safety.

Just my understanding of it...then again I was considered an idiot for questioning the hit on Miller last season...so what do. i know right?


November 13th, 2013 at 9:24 PM ^

Concussions are real, and the dangers are real.  I am not surprised that a lot of parents are saying "no" until they are a little older.  

As for "flag football," there are plenty of tweaks that can be made.  They should stop rewarding players for hard hits.  I would eliminate fumbles and give the ball to whoever had possession when the ball was dropped.  I would also use the same rules for roughing the passer as for roughing the kicker.

There are plenty of changes that can be made without making the game unwatchable.  The problem is that every change will be bitched about by people whose most streuous or dangerous activity is popping the top off of a can of beer or opening a bag of chips.


November 13th, 2013 at 9:35 PM ^

It's complicated because youth football has it's own set of moral complications completely isolated from the moral issues facing the NFL. At neither level do I think it's a black and white issue, where black is "they know the risks, let them sign a waiver and stfu," and white is "let's make all these rule changes and hope that the game is still watchable."

My problem is I have no suggestions, so I'm stuck at the contrarian stage.


November 13th, 2013 at 9:29 PM ^

But lots of those changes have to do with evolving strategy. I think that the rise of the passing game predates the various player safety rule changes. It has more to do with other rule changes that made it harder to play pass coverage.

The last decade has seen massive changes, however, due to player safety rules that are unrelated to changes in shceme, etc. Back as recently as the early 2000s even, there were still numerous defenses that dominated the game, and we had TV segments like ESPN's "Jacked Up." That would never fly today. 

All Day

November 13th, 2013 at 9:26 PM ^

On my phone, so no link, but there was a similar piece in the Kalamazoo section of MLive last week.

This is purely anecdotal, but as a coach the past few years I've noticed a sharp uptick in concussions, at least being diagnosed, in the middle and high school levels.


November 13th, 2013 at 9:37 PM ^

"The statistics, which have not been previously disclosed, are consistent with declining participation rates reported in youth football across the country. USA Football, a national governing body partially funded by the NFL, said participation among players ages 6 to 14 fell from 3 million to 2.8 million in 2011, a 6.7 percent decline."


November 13th, 2013 at 9:39 PM ^

As a parent, you have to be insane to let your kid play football with all of the concussions happening, unless you believed they could go to a college for free.

There are many other sports out there which don't risk your kids life.


November 13th, 2013 at 9:50 PM ^

Insane? Isn't that over doing just a wee bit...my son plays and I'm 100% good with it. I don't have a care in the world about long term effects of helmet to helmet contact and concussion potential. Why? Because once he's done after 12th grade, he's done for life. He won't play I college or pros. He will not have brain damage.


November 13th, 2013 at 10:00 PM ^

just curious, what is your basis for the "he will not have brain damage" statement?

I mean, to me, the problem is that...kids have been doing youth football for 100 years and we never really have talked about long-term related brain damage before. Is that because we didn't know the connection, or is there really not one and all this attention is truly media-driven "hysteria?"


November 14th, 2013 at 1:37 PM ^

not trying to be a worry monger, but there is really no way you can say ANY high school player will have absolutely NO brain damage.

Will your kid have no significant brain damage that has any real effect on his life?  Probably.

Will he have NO brain damage?  Impossible to know. 

There have been studies done that show that repeated blows such as the ones suffered by linemen can cause deficits in high school aged kids.  Now, most of the kids recover from these deficits, but damage is being done.  How much?  How serious?  We are just in the very early stages of understanding all of this stuff.   But all of the reserach seems to be pointing in the direction of "this is way worse than we thought". 



November 13th, 2013 at 10:02 PM ^

I'm in this camp. While I understand there are risks, there are risks for pretty much anything besides staying at home in a bubble. And while I would be concerned about brain injuries over a sustained college football and NFL career, I think it's a leap from that to risking a kid's life playing Pop Warner. But  given the genes my son inherited, I'm not exactly worried about a long football career. Maybe it would be different if that was a possibility. 


November 13th, 2013 at 10:21 PM ^

Agree with you there, but the football head injury problem isn't necessarily a college/NFL problem.  It's not even necessarily a concussion problem, which seems to be almost entirely lost in the coverage.  If you get a chance, go back and watch the Frontline documentary from a few weeks ago.  I think the take-away was largely directed to the unsavory behavior of the NFL, but the more important story to me was that the early studies are pointing to the link of "sub-concussive" collisions to CTE, and they specifically addressed the Pop Warner level players as being particularly susceptible to those impacts because of their developing brains.  

10 years from now, I think we'll come to the conclusion concussions were a bit of a red herring; the everyday impacts that don't cause concussions are the real story where CTE is concerned, and that's a big issue when we're talking about little kids banging heads for even a few seasons. 



November 13th, 2013 at 10:31 PM ^

Most if the studies say hockey and soccer are also bad for your noggin - approaching the levels in football.

I don't think there's anything wrong with parents being concerned over football, but they probably ought to be just as concerned for two other very popular team sports.


November 14th, 2013 at 1:30 AM ^


 I've certainly heard reports about CTE being found in former Hockey Players, but I must admit I haven't heard anything about Soccer Players.  Granted, this isn't necessarily a topic i'm extremely well versed on.


 Do you have a link to an article about soccer being bad for the brain?

SC Wolverine

November 13th, 2013 at 10:35 PM ^

There are few activities to build character in young men to compare with high school football.  Both of my sons have greatly benefited from our great football program (great not in wins but in character and competition).  Yes, there is some risk.  But life has risk.  At the high school level the collisions are an exponential level lower than at the D1 level.  Our season just ended and there was one concussion that I am aware of on the team.  This is in part because the helmets are so much better than they used to be, and also because the Newtonian physics of high school football just are not what they are at the college level.


November 13th, 2013 at 10:58 PM ^

Right. I have two sons, one very large and 10, the other small and 8. The 10 yo is a complete animal on the football field, and pretty much in general physically. The little guy is a switch hitting 2nd baseman. We worry about concussions, but frankly some kids are pit bulls. Others are not. What're you gonna do?



November 14th, 2013 at 10:17 AM ^

My son has played since second grade. In that time I have seen 1 concussion in youth football and one knee injury. (Meanwhile I met a kid who had two concussions from youth baseball in one season, and was not allowed to play.) They just don't hit that hard.

Middle school is a step up: my son tore his ACL in practice and there were a few broken bones. (FWIW when he went through rehab, there was a girl who had torn her ACL playing soccer.)

High school seems to be where the injuries really kick in. Still - saw two concussions in one season (one was a textbook heads up tackle where the tacklers helmet - who was broken down - came up under the chin of the running back - who was running upright).

That said and as I said above: if you have a bigger kid who is gawky because their frame has out grown their fine muscular control, then football is the only sport I have seen where they are a valued part of the team. Every other sport prizes fine motor skills between eye and hand or foot. My son would not think of himself as an athlete if not for football.


November 14th, 2013 at 10:40 AM ^

I think that is a bit of a hysterical exageration of the risks.


...but, then - I let my 11 year old play football. I let my 11 year old ride his bike around the neighborhood unsupervised. I started letting him go to the park, alone, at 8 years old. I sometimes let my 11 year old ride in the front seat of the car. My kids occasionally go out in the sun without sunscreen, and even get sun burns. Etc, etc.


In other words, I let my kid behave largely like kids did when I was a child in the 1980's.


Is there some increased risk from doing so? Sure - but the benefits outweigh the costs.



November 13th, 2013 at 9:56 PM ^

Let me echo the "1-sport athlete" trend.

I coach two sports at the high school level and we literally have one program fighting the other for athletes - in different seasons!  We lose basketball and lacrosse players to club soccer.  We lose soccer and basketball players to club baseball.  We lose soccer players to club lacrosse.

It's stupid.  Club coaches are ruining interscholastic athletics by telling kids "the only way you'll get to the next club level is if you're playing all year" (and paying thousands in club fees).  Any parents are not stepping in - they believe their special little angel will be a D1 scholarship athlete so they buy into it instead of encouraging their kids to play many sports and have fun with their friends in high school.

I hate it.  It's the #1 thing I despise in youth/teenage sports.

At a D3/D4 school, I can count the number of 3-sport athletes on 1 hand.  It's sad.


November 13th, 2013 at 10:31 PM ^

Most club soccer runs during the spring, but clubs will organize winter teams as well that play in tournaments on weekends and indoor during the week.  So we lose basketball players who decide to specialize in soccer.  (And of course, lacrosse and baseball lose players to club soccer).

Also, now the most elite club teams - academy teams - are fall through spring teams.  Therefore, if you have a kid at your school that makes one of these elite teams, he has to decide whether he's playing on the elite club team or the high school team.  Cannot do both.  So, not only do we lose kids in one sport to clubs teams of another sport, we lose kids to club teams of the same sport!

Soccer is the worst at my school (and I coach it, which puts me in an awkward position).  Of our 30 soccer players, only 2 play basketball and only maybe 4 play lacrosse and I think 1 plays baseball.  So, of our 30 players, approx. 23 are 1-sport athletes.  None are 3-sport.  This is extreme - it wasn't as bad last year - but I fear it is a trend that will hold in the future.

But there's also club baseball and club lacrosse that hurts other teams, including soccer.


November 13th, 2013 at 11:15 PM ^

Well, we have a smaller school, so its a bigger issue for us. 

A school of Pioneer's size is very different - you don't need 3 sport athletes to field competitive teams in all sports.

I grew up in a rural area where the best athletes were the best athletes, regardless of sport.  To have an exceptional athlete choose to not play basketball because they are playing soccer hurts smaller schools more than bigger schools and was practically unheard of where I grew up. 

I guess I never thought much of it from a large school perspective.  Still, even at a large school, if you have an elite athlete, they can be a major contributor to many athletic teams, if they choose to be (extreme example - Lebron James the football player).  As a coach, I want the best athletes.  I can work with a soccer player on the basketball team if he's a great athlete.  Give me someone that can defend and rebound - I don't care how good of a shooter he is if he is a good enough athlete.  As the saying goes - you can teach everything but size (and athleticism).

As far as soccer - basketball.  I've found at the D3 size school level, there's a great crossover between the two sports.  A center midfielder and a point guard have roles that are extremely similar.  Also, skill sets are more similar than you'd expect - quickness, vision, etc.

Personally, I played soccer in HS but I could have just as easily been a football player.  I was a stronger/bigger soccer player and was quick enough to probably run the football or maybe play defensive end.  Again, though - that's at a smaller school where there's less competition.


November 13th, 2013 at 10:22 PM ^

And after baseball was summer break and swimming in the pool all the time. Life was good.

But it's true, so many kids and their parents get it in their head that they need to "specialize" in one sport in order to maximize the chance of a collage scholarship.

Another reason I hear about boys quitting football is the size factor. Some boys just don't to grow real big, and they don't want to take the pounding in practice knowing they aren't going to play much in games.

SC Wolverine

November 13th, 2013 at 10:38 PM ^

Yes, it's the year-long schedule that accounts for this.  My sons are both two sports players (football and basketball for one; football and baseball for the other), and they miss quite a few practices/conditioning sessions in football because of it.  Football is especially a year-round sport now.


November 13th, 2013 at 10:01 PM ^

Pop Warner participation going down... student section attendance dropping...


Although seriously, virtual reality scientists need to hurry the hell up and devise a system where football players can strap into a machine and play on a virtual field, without the risk of injury.


November 14th, 2013 at 12:52 AM ^

I never understood the "we have helmets now so its more dangerous" meme. Players 100 years ago literally died on the field while playing the game. Check out the wikipedia page for sports players who've died during their careers - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_sportspeople_who_died_during_their_careers. From 1900 to 1925 it was about one college player ever two years. And how many teams playing at that time? Since 1967 only 1 player has died from on field injuries and it was a spinal cord incident.

Sure there are more diagnosed concussions today but I can't help but think that our ever increasing knowledge and detection of these injuries has created a lot of this fear where it should have been for a long time. I'm probably taking a leap here but I figure if people were DYING 100 years ago from head injuries, there were probably a lot of un-diagnosed concussions. It certainly doesn't make it right, but just looking for perspective.