Estimates show that about 3.5 million kids in the United States play football. Unfortunately, no one knows exactly how many of those children get concussions during practice and games because many players do not show immediate symptoms.

Given the prevalence of head injuries in football and other contact sports, parents, coaches, and other adults should learn more about preventing concussions during football.

What Causes Concussions While Playing Football?

Concussions occur when a blow to the head shakes the brain violently, causing areas of the brain to suffer mild damage. Hard impacts can even cause bleeding in the brain.

Since football is such a high-impact sport, these athletes have a high risk of getting concussed.

Doctors once believed that kids only got concussions after a single blow to the head. Research performed at Purdue University, however, shows that concussions often develop after players receive multiple hits over time.

A child who gets hit hard enough while playing football may get a traumatic brain injury, such as a concussion. More often than not, though, concussions come from the cumulative effect of smaller collisions.

Unfortunately, the Purdue research suggests that people who play football for several years have higher risks of getting concussions.

Common Concussion Symptoms

Concussion symptoms can persist anywhere from a few minutes to several days. In rare cases, symptoms have lasted for weeks. If your child has been hit while playing football, you should look for some of these common symptoms:

  • Fatigue

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Slurred speech

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Headaches

  • Ringing in the ears

  • Confusion

  • Delayed responses to questions

  • Memory loss

Some symptoms take longer to develop, so parents should carefully observe their athletic children after they receive hard hits during games and practice sessions. Delayed symptoms can appear a few hours or even days after the injury. Some of the most common ones include:

  • Problems sleeping

  • Sensitivity to light

  • Sensitivity to noise

  • Difficulty concentrating or recalling information

  • Changes in personality, such as irritability

  • Depression

  • Taste and smell disorders

If you notice any of the immediate or delayed symptoms of a concussion, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Steps Parents and Coaches Can Take to Avoid Head Injuries

Football is one of the most popular sports in the U.S., so a lot of kids want to play the game. Parents who decide to let their children participate should learn essential tips to avoid head injuries. Some effective tips include:

  • Requiring players to wear helmets during games and full-contact practice sessions.

  • Choosing the right type of helmet for your child.

  • Requiring players to wear custom-fitted mouthguards instead of generic guards.

  • Limiting full-contact practice sessions.

  • Following football rules carefully and penalizing players who commit fouls.

  • Using exercises to improve the strength of neck muscles.

Interestingly, some research shows that practicing football without helmets can help prevent concussions as long as players don't use full contact. Helmetless Tackling Training has players perform tackling drills at 50-75% effort. By participating in this training program, players learn how to control their tackles and how to respond to getting tackled.

"Over time, the benefits are that a football player will have fewer head impacts," said Dr. Erik Swartz, Professor of Kinesiology at the University of New Hampshire. "This results in less risk for acute injuries such as concussion and spine injury but also decreases the cumulative burden of sub-concussive impacts over time."

He added that there are also performance benefits to the players and that they have "become better at tackling according to coaches at UNH and high schools that have used it."

If you’re worried that your child’s team doesn’t follow these tips, you should speak with the coach about making some changes. Most coaches want their players to stay as healthy as possible, so they should listen to your concerns. You may also want to provide evidence, such as studies published online, to convince the coach to take your concerns seriously.

If you don’t get a positive response from your child’s coach, contact that person’s superior, such as a school principal or the head of the football league.

How to Choose the Right Helmet for Your Child

Some helmets provide more protection than others, so you should know how to choose an option that matches your child’s needs. When comparing helmets, look for the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) seal. If the helmet does not say that it meets NOCSAE standards, you should not buy it.

Other tips for buying a reliable helmet include:

  • Measure your child’s head circumference so you can choose a correctly sized helmet.

  • Try on helmets to ensure they fit snugly.

  • Have someone with experience review the helmet to make sure it fits well.

  • Find a helmet that fits properly without using the chin strap, which just provides extra stability.

  • Avoid reconditioned helmets unless they have been approved by NOCSAE.

Concussions can still happen no matter how much you prepare. With the right information, though, you can help your children lower their risks of getting concussed while playing football. If your child does get hit during football practice or games, make sure you can identify the symptoms of concussions so you can decide whether you need to visit a hospital for immediate medical attention.