What Sports Should I Allow my Teenager to Play?

It can't have escaped anyone's notice that there was recently a huge news story regarding a group of leading doctors and their thoughts on banning tackling in school rugby. This sparked off a fairly lively debate about the merits of allowing full contact in the schoolboy game. Some argued that the lack of specific rugby training expertise in teachers and a lack of adequate facilities at many schools made full contact rugby inherently unsafe. Others suggested that far from being debilitating to the national game, touch rugby may actually help improve our youngsters attacking rugby skills. Alternatively some have put forward the notion that perhaps the fairer step to take would be to make contact rugby optional for schoolkids, rather than compulsory.

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The passionate arguments which the debate prompted do point to one clear issue; namely that there is understandably genuine concern over what sports are safe for our teenagers to play. Kids are biologically stronger, taller and fast than ever, and as such the dangers of contact sports have unavoidably increased over time.

To Play or Not to Play?

There are a range of different approaches to this issue, with there being no definitive right or wrong answer. You may take the approach that kids need to experience the rough and tumble as part of growing up. Alternatively, you may be leaning towards shielding your teenager from the riskier sports altogether to ensure their safety.

Easily the most dangerous of sports are those where direct impact is involved. Rugby, boxing, football, ice hockey… these types of sports are certainly more prone to cause injury due to their combative nature. Another recent news story revolved around banning heading in children's football due to it potentially causing neurological damage. Again, to some this is merely example of our kids being mollycoddled, but the experts who make these suggestions aren't doing so for no reason.

Is Non Contact the Best Way Forward?

Perhaps understandably therefore you may opt to only let your child take part in non or low impact sports. Tennis, badminton, athletics are all good choices, natural. If it's a team sport you're wanting your child to partake in, paintballing is a good choice that involves a much lower risk of injury than its impact-heavy counterparts. Be sure though to take the right safety precautions - Mayhem Paintball in Essex is one such example of a place where customers' safety is a prime consideration - players are given glazed goggles that don't fog up and younger players are offered impact reduction jackets.


What about Combat Sports & Martial Arts?

Combat sports and martial arts are renowned for their ability to develop character and reinforce personality traits such as bravery and self-control. There is a body of research however, which suggests that aggressive behaviour in the gym or dojo, can reinforce violence and therefore lead children to be more likely to act aggressively in 'real life'.

Combat Sports and Martial arts that place emphasis on sparring, and have no emphasis on social interaction, empathy or discipline, tend to have a negative impact on behaviour. This is potentially a major negative aspect of martial arts and similar sports such as boxing.

In contrast, traditional martial arts such as Tae Kwon Do, which place a great emphasis on discipline and often empathy & respect, can actually be used to reduce aggressive behaviour and increase 'helpful bystanding' (preventing bullying). With the exception of Judo, all traditional styles of martial arts tend to have a positive impact on children and adolescents. It is important however, to take each club or class on its own individual merits. Boxing for example, if taught by an intelligent and well-meaning coach can have a huge positive impact on young boys (especially those seeking a positive male role model), whilst the same sport, taught by an aggressive and short-tempered coach can have a very different impact.

Head trauma and concussions are a risk factor in many striking styles of martial arts (as in most contact sports), therefore some parents may also wish to opt for, and encourage their children to participate in grappling styles of martial arts such as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, or a semi-contact style such as Tae Kwon Do.

So, What's the Answer?

The two most popular team sports amongst teenagers, rugby and football are understandably the centre of this debate. The former especially is never going to be completely risk free, and what football may lack in impact injuries, it undoubtedly makes up for in prospective muscular damage.

Whether you teenager should undertake such sport is really up to you. Non-contact sports should be encouraged without reservation, however in the case of impact-heavy sports; it has to come down to your personal choice as well as the desire of the teenager involved.

The human brain continues to develop well throughout adolescents and up to the mid-twenties. With this in mind, contact sports such as boxing should be approached with caution - preferably by seeking out a club which does not emphasise sparring, but technique, fitness and discipline.

Sport can develop character in a fashion which no other activity can. It can also make exercise extremely enjoyable. It is therefore beneficial in many ways to encourage your children to participate, just evaluate the risks and potential rewards before introducing them into a particular sport.

What do You Think?

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