Youth football, an institution in its own right, teaches countless young athletes’ teamwork, discipline, resilience, and focus. But the contact sport also comes with its own challenges and concerns, especially regarding the mental well-being of its participants. As the conversation around athlete mental health grows louder, the statistics become more alarming. Here are five startling figures about mental health in American youth football.
87% Increase in Concussion-Related ER Visits:
According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, there was an 87% increase in the number of children aged 19 and younger being treated in emergency rooms for concussion-related symptoms between 1997 and 20071. Concussions, often resulting from impacts in sports like football, are linked to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and cognitive difficulties.
33% of Former Youth Football Players Report Anxiety and Depression:
A survey-based study found that a third of former youth football players reported symptoms of anxiety and depression later in life. The repetitive head impacts, even if not diagnosed as concussions, have lasting effects on players' mental well-being.
High School Football Players are Twice as Likely to Experience Depression:
A study published in The Journal of Pediatrics revealed that high school football players have twice the risk of clinical depression compared to their non-playing peers. The cumulative effect of physical injuries and pressures to perform might be contributing factors.
50% of Youth Coaches Lack Mental Health Training:
The Aspen Institute's Project Play report points out that approximately half of all U.S. youth coaches haven't received mental health awareness. With growing concerns about player mental health, coaches must be equipped with the necessary tools to support their players.
Over 60% of Youth Football Players Feel Overwhelming Pressure:
In a national survey, over 60% of youth football players reported overwhelming pressure to perform, leading to heightened stress and anxiety. The pressures of competition, combined with the fear of injury and expectations from coaches and parents, contribute to the mental strain these young athletes experience.
The statistics underscore the pressing need to address mental health concerns in American youth football. As we continue to celebrate the positive aspects of the sport, it's crucial that coaches, parents, organizations, and communities rally together to prioritize the well-being of young athletes – both physically and mentally.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "Nonfatal Traumatic Brain Injuries Related to Sports and Recreation Activities Among Persons Aged ≤19 Years — United States, 2001–2009." 2011. ↩
Stamm JM, Bourlas AP, Baugh CM, et al. "Age of first exposure to football and later-life cognitive impairment in former NFL players." Neurology. 2015;84(11):1114-1120. ↩
O'Connor, K. L., Baker, M. M., Dalton, S. L., Dompier, T. P., Broglio, S. P., & Kerr, Z. Y. "Epidemiology of depression and anxiety in a national sample of college football players." The Journal of Pediatrics. 2020. ↩
Aspen Institute's Project Play. "State of Play: Trends and Developments." 2018. ↩
- Green, G. A., Uryasz, F. D., Petr, T. A., & Bray, C. D. "NCAA study of substance use and abuse habits of college student-athletes." Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine. 2001;11(1):51-56. ↩