High School Contact Sports Not Connected to Brain Problems

To play or not to play?

Potential good news for those with brain injury concerns in contact sports. New research shows that any cognitive ailment present in youths who played contact sports was no more significant in those who did not play contact sports as they progressed into adulthood. The study conducted by the University of Colorado Boulder captured the responses of 11,000 youths over a 14-year period.

According to the Orthopedic Journal of Sports Medicine, by the time the studied individuals reached their 20s and 30s, those who did play sports early on were actually less likely to see the effects of mental health problems.

The rate of youth football participation in America continues to decline amid the controversy surrounding chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). This decline results in the public’s altered view toward professional football and football for all ages. UCB’s findings look specifically at youth sports participation.

The results of the UCB study 

Starting in 1994, UCB selected young athletes from grades 7 to 12 for the study. Researchers categorized the athletes based on their future athletic intentions. Some planned to play contact sports (26% of males specifically noted football) and some planned to participate in non-contact sports. Others did not plan to take part in sports at all.

Then, in 2008, those same participants were asked a series of questions relating to depression or attempted suicide. Dr. David lower rate of depressionBohr, of UCB’s Department of Integrative Physiology, stated that there was no significant difference among the groups in the study. The mental state of all participants appeared to be nearly the same. In fact, the participants who played football proved to have lower rates of depression from those in other groups in the study. Those who claimed they had no intention of playing sports in their youth had a 22% higher rate of depression, as they moved into early adulthood.

NFL vs. Youth 

It’s currently hard for many researchers, parents, and student-athletes to see the long-term benefits of playing football. A select group of individuals who have played in the NFL have suffered serious cognitive and neurological damage. Still, we can’t assume that the same level of injuries will result from participation in youth football. 

The researchers concluded that more research is necessary before conclusive results can be made.

Prior study reaches a similar conclusion

Another topical study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania gathered information from 3,000 male graduates in 1957. It compared those who played football against those who did not. Of course, drastic changes have been made to the sport since the 1950s. But even then no evidence could be found linking football to mental health problems.

Final thoughts

It is important to note that the designers of the study at the UCB did not collect certain information. It could be important to know which position the athletes played, how long they played, or whether or not they received a concussion at any point. More research needs conducted to account for these variables.

Playing football, as it relates to long-term mental stability, remains one of the most controversial public safety topics today. The ultimate goal of this and future studies is to provide enough evidence for sports participants to make a valid decision if they should or should not play.

Brain injury risk management is essential

It’s good news to see some positive studies to counteract all the sensationalized studies hyped by the media about the dangers of youth contact sports. At Sadler Sports Insurance, we constantly educate our clients on the risks of brain injury and provide brain injury/concussion risk management programs that can significantly reduce risks. Here are the links to our free programs that can be adopted and implemented:

Source: “STUDY: No link between youth contact sports and future adverse effects.”; National Alliance for Youth Sports; October 22, 2019.


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