Coaches with the Mississippi Gulf Coast Youth Football League work with their players during the annual all star tournament. (Photo source: WLOX News)
GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) -
Hard hits and tough tackles.
It’s all part of football. And so are injuries that result, particularly concussions, and there's a growing concern about the long-term effects in youth.
Still, youth football is big. The weekend featured 640 players at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Youth Football League's All Star tournament.
Sean Simmons understands the dangers with his chosen sport, and like every other coach in the league, he is certified to prevent them. But, he says stopping youth football isn't the answer.
“Learning to play a sport that has some violent contact, learning to do it the right way, has to start early,” Simmons said. “If you start when you are 14 or 15 years old, you’re so far behind, that the chance of being hurt to me would be even more.”
Simmons has coached 7-8 year old teams for three years.
“Every snap I’m worried about safety,” Simmons said. “Every decision that we make as coaches is criticized and is looked at by the league and officials and by ourselves, and we have to make sure we’re putting our kids in positions to succeed but also in positions to do the right things and come out of this ok.”
Jessie Peterson is president of the league. He says coaches must be certified by USA Football Heads Up, which teaches proper tackling. Peterson added that serious penalties for violating safety rules and stringent inspection rules about equipment, particularly helmets, have helped.
“It’s not the old school tackling anymore,” Peterson said. “But everybody’s on board. You could pull our numbers up, and we’ve had one concussion in two years.”
Dr. Randy Roth with Singing River Health System, a football coach, former player and parent of a player who suffered a concussion, agrees.
“I still believe you can play youth sports in a safe fashion,” he said. “I think it all boils down to correct teaching and education, an recognition of early symptoms.”
Nichole Johnston’s 9-year-old son has been playing for three years.
“A little bit,” Johnston's said. “But with the equipment they provide and the coaching they teach them, I think he’s as safe as he’s going to be on the field.”
Eleven-year-old John Peterson also doesn’t like the thought of stopping youth football.
“It would stink,” John said. “I mean, I would be so mad. I don’t know what else I would do.”