Sporting industry leaders have defended tackling in junior sport despite a new study linking the risk of head impacts with degenerative brain disease.
- Industry leaders have responded to a new study linking head impacts in sport to degenerative brain disease
- Authors of the report suggest a ban on tackling in junior sport to reduce the risk for kids
- Tackling is set to stay, but with a focus on teaching it safely
The Harvard University report found millions of children were exposed to repetitive head impacts through sport participation, noting the demographic was too young to know of potential long-term risks associated with the exposure.
One of the authors is Australian concussion expert Alan Pearce, who said there was conclusive evidence of the link between the risk of head impacts and the neurodegenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
The study calls for sporting bodies to think about modifications for junior athletes.
The researchers are also calling for repetitive head impacts and CTE among children to be treated like exposure to lead, mercury, smoking and sunburn.
Their research has been published in the journal Frontiers in Neurology.
“We looked at different sports with different characteristics, and they were all showing a similar thing,” Dr Pearce said.
“Anyone who engages in repetitive head trauma … they get CTE where you don’t see it in random populations of people.
“We know there’s causative action here and that’s why we want sports around the world to think strongly about this.”
Tackling needs to be taught
Australasian College of Sport and Exercise Physicians president Mark Fulcher said it was an overreaction to suggest a ban on tackles in children’s sport.
“That is a group of academics saying that they believe there’s no need to tackle,” Dr Fulcher said.
“But I think if we were to go and talk to people who are actively involved in coaching, they would probably have a different view.”
He said many would make an argument coaching and teaching kids how to tackle and have good technique was an important part of improving safety.
West Australian Football Commission executive manager for youth, community and game development, Troy Kirkham, said he welcomed the report, but there was a lot of work being done around tackling education for kids.
“We want to introduce tackling, but we want to do it in a safe way where it’s really controlled, and it’s done at the right pace and the right level,” Mr Kirkham said.
“I think one of the things that a lot of sports are saying to look at now is how do you safely teach tackling and the like.”
Part of Aussie rules
Mr Kirkham said tackling was an important part of games such as AFL.
“We start introducing tackling at the age of about nine, and it’s just basically a wraparound tackle which is sequentially developed from there until about the age of 13 where we introduce full tackling into the game,” he said.
“It’s about teaching kids year on year to make sure they’re tackling, and they have a duty of care to the people they’re tackling.”
Southern Districts Junior Football Association president Mel Sulzberger said it was important tackling stayed.
“That’s Australian rules and I think that it comes down to teaching people in the right way,” Ms Sulzberger said.
“It’s not about taking everything away and wrapping them [kids] up in cotton wool.”
She said head impacts could happen at any time both during and outside the game.
“Kids can get a knock to the ground just from marking a ball, so can they falling off their bike, or they can do anything else and get a head injury,”
“To be really honest, I think the people that don’t want to tackle don’t play anyway.”
Source: AFL NEWS ABC