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Friday, August 20, 2010

Football & Driving

How many hours a week does you teen practice a sport, like football?

How important is a high school sport to you teen?
Do they aspire to be one of about 17,000 professional athletes that make an average of $80,000 a year for 5 years?

If teens want to play a high school sport, they have no choice but to practice for 10-20 hours a week (e.g., football) to stay on the team. That doesn't include years of traveling team play and practice before high school..

There's no middle-of-the-road league for teens who love the sport, but who don't want to practice as though it's their greatest priority. Also, many of the teams are poorly coached or managed by selfish coaches and over-zealous parents.

We adults send teens and children messages that we're not aware of. If we're telling our teen that it's great to practice football or baseball 10-20 hours a week, yet only require studying a few hours a week, well, actions do speak louder than words in this case.

Compare football to driving:
How many hours a week do teens practice driving before they get their license?
Illinois law requires 50 hours total driving practice with 10 hours of night practice.

In 2007, in Illinois, 192 teens died in auto accidents. That same year, how many teens died playing football?
When teens play football, they're navigating a rectangle filled with 22 people under the guidance of a coach and policed by several refs always within a throwing distance. Along with hundreds or thousands of fans to watch - there couldn't be more pressure to perform well.

When teens are driving, they are unsupervised, navigating through thousands of cars through changing roadways and conditions, radio on, possibly texting, and police presence is sparse; it's easy to for teens to make poor decisions with so much freedom from the pressure of adult eyes and ears.

Many teen driving deaths occur at night and on interstates or freeways - places where teens probably get the least amount of driving practice. About 52% of the teen driving deaths occur at speeds of 55mph or faster.

Teens need more practice driving and at the same time, they could stand to have less football practice. In an activity that kills nearly between 100-200 teens a year (as well as collateral deaths and injuries), parents should be sure do as much as they can to prevent this. Getting kids to practice driving at night, on interstates and at higher speeds may be time well spent. Setting up limits for driving and clear expectations and punishments for driving mistakes may help, too. Parents may want to consider an umbrella liability insurance policy to protect their home and finances as well.

If you're afraid to practice driving with your teen at higher speeds, in bad weather, at night or on interstates, maybe they aren't ready for it.


By the way, I love football. It's a great sport to play, especially for teenagers. However, high school football isn't what it used to be. The adults who are in charge of the athletic system from middle-school through professional sport organizations (NFL, NHL, etc...) demand a lot from teens. But, they don't offer much in return. Teens can get scholarships, and this part of the system is great for those few who can excel at a particular sport. But many others get left behind, often with physical injuries and damaged esteem. Once you are injured, you lose your scholarship.

Over the years, I've known many children and teens who went into sports with high hopes and became depressed in the end because they couldn't handle not making the cut. I have known many teens who have sustained serious injuries to their neck, back, knees, or elbows. As far as I know, there's no informed consent before entering a sport - just a wavier. Teens have difficulty coping with serious injuries; they can become depressed and may be prone to substance abuse or destructive behavior.

I recall one teen who developed back problems. He felt terribly guilty about the on-going medical bills. He worried that he would never be able to play sports or do other physical activities as an adult. He was angry about his injury. His grades had declined as well as his personal appearance. What hurt him most was that all of his friends from the team had stopped hanging out with him.

It's very possible that for boys, a sport injury could be a risk factor for suicide ideation or suicide behavior. I would recommend that high school athletic departments provide informed consents to parents ahead of time, in a discussion format. Parents don't have much time to read another booklet and if they did, the information might not sink-in. Most people expect that they'll not get hurt. A discussion group about sports injuries and other possible negative outcomes, along with statistical information can help parents and teens decide if the sport is worth the risk, and it can help them be prepared for problems that they might not have expected.

It's clear that our expectations of events determine, in part, our reaction. If teens know ahead of time the risk of injuries, the likelihood of injuries and what the long-term consequences of injuries could be, they'll likely do much better at coping with it should it happen.

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