How young is too young for contact sports? - FOX5 Vegas - KVVU

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How young is too young for contact sports?

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HENDERSON, NV (FOX5) -

It's an ethical as well as a physical debate. Is your 5- or 6-year-old child old enough to be playing tackle football or other contact sports? If you want your child to be an athlete, do the health risks outweigh the benefits?

Coaches of the Henderson Spartans football team, a member of the Southern Nevada Youth Sports Association, believe there is a good argument to be made for 6-year-olds playing tackle football.

"We award for school, we award for at-home behavior. Anything that they do good, they bring it to us and we give them stickers like (college athletes) get stickers on their helmets," said Eric Champagne, head coach of the Henderson Spartans.

"My son… this is where he fits in, and so for the right kid this is the best place to be," said Jennifer Wood, whose son plays lineman with the Spartans.

Wood's son takes hits from third- and fourth-graders and has so far always walked away unharmed. That's not always the case.

Wood, a nurse who volunteers her time and expertise on the sidelines, and Champagne have dealt with concussions this season.

"Their balance will be off, eyes glassy. They'll be incoherent. If I see any of those symptoms, they'll come out," Champagne said.

Dr. Michael Milligan is the head team physician for UNLV Athletics. Overseeing 17 sports, he said the top risk for children this young is the fact that they may not be able to verbalize sensations associated with serious head injury.

"They may not perceive their symptoms in the same way you and I would," Milligan said. "They may not say, ‘My head hurts;' they may say, ‘I don't feel right,' or, ‘I feel tired.'"

Champagne believes proper tackling technique mitigates most risk. Injured players may not return to the team until cleared by a doctor.

"They won't get in until they're ready. So we make sure they understand that, and we give the reasons because they could get hurt," said Champagne.

Milligan stressed that currently there is not enough evidence of long-term cognitive issues to keep children from contact sports.

"We have to acknowledge there's an association there, but how do you define which of those individuals playing football are going to end up with these problems and which are not?" he said.

Parents tend to get overly excited about their children. Some are of the impression their child will be the next phenom. Many of those kids end up at the office of Dr. Morgan Crum.

"We've had parents come in here, bringing 4-year-olds in here, wanting them to do a strength training program, which is just absolutely ridiculous," Crum said.

Crum, a physical therapist, founded Athleticare more than three years ago. He trains and rehabilitates numerous professional athletes. Crum believes that besides starting some kids in sports at far too young an age, many parents encourage them to play too much.

"The problem is when it's overdone, when they're scheduled practicing four or five times a week, playing games, playing tournaments all the time," he said.

"They're playing year-round, and we never give their bodies a chance to heal," said Mike Martin, a former MLB catcher.

Martin has been managing the Las Vegas Baseball Academy for nearly 30 years. Parents have asked him to personally train their children numerous times, a request he always turns down. Martin believes parents fall into the trap of thinking the younger a child starts, the better.

"Parents starting kids at 5 or 6 years old, they're not going to see the benefits that they would like to see," he said.

Martin started in baseball at age 8, an age he believes is appropriate. Still, opinions vary and no one is suggesting you pull your child from his or her athletic program.

However, everyone FOX5 spoke with agrees that placing a child in a sport he or she is not interested in is a bad idea.

"Your kid has to want to be here. If your kid doesn't want to be here, they'll get hurt," Wood said.

Champagne said if your child truly wants to play and can take instruction, he has coached kids as young as 4.

The Southern Nevada Youth Sports Association requires head coaches to be trained in CPR. The league's president said many teams have volunteer nurses on the sidelines.

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