In 2009, a staggering 25 percent of male high school athletes played football.
Now, high school teams across the country are being forced to forfeit games, recruit players and attempt to understand why 2009's peak participation total has dropped by 6.5 percent in nine years.
The New York Times recently published an in-depth examination of the player drought in New Jersey, a state that has suffered significantly from the recent drop in player turnout. According to the Times, the state's football-playing total dropped by 1,700 athletes from 2016 to 2017. Datelines from Denver, Texas, and Sacramento precede articles chronicling thinning local high school football rosters. The primary reason behind these shrinking figures, the report indicates, is a growing concern among parents and students regarding an increased awareness of concussions and football's long-term cognitive effects.
These fears, according to a report published last fall by the Chicago Tribune, relate to the enhanced scientific understanding of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. CTE is a neurodegenerative disease with cognitively damaging and potentially life-threatening effects. A recent study of the brains of 111 deceased NFL players found that 110 of the subjects, or 99 percent, exhibited signs of the disease, which was first recorded by Dr. Bennet Omalu after he performed an autopsy on former Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Webster in 2002.
Reuters reported last spring that parental fears are likely related to increased media coverage of CTE and the dangerous effects of football on the developing brain, and the Tribune article cited parents who said that although they played football as children, they wouldn't let their own children participate in the sport.
Although, according to the Times, football remains the nation's most popular sport among boys ages 14 to 17, its decline continues to intrigue and bedevil news outlets and scrambling coaches across the nation. Several outlets have pointed out that concussion fears aren't the only factor contributing to declining participation. In a post titled "Why High School Football is Dying a Slow Death (It's Not Just Concussions)," Forbes's Bob Cook cites declining enrollment, demographic shifts, a loss of interest in football, and pressure to choose a primary sport earlier in an athlete's high school career as hindrances to football's struggle to retain its top spot among American youth sports.
Despite parental concerns, new regulations and laws have reportedly helped to curb alarming concussion statistics among youth and college athletes. The Washington Post reported last fall that a study found a series of laws passed between 2009 and 2014 to have significantly decreased concussion rates among teenagers. The laws focused primarily on preventing cognitively at-risk athletes from returning to play as well as educating parents, coaches and athletes on the potential signs and symptoms of concussions. Kickoff and touchback line adjustments in the Ivy League, according to the Times, reduced concussions by 80 percent. Yet even with these improvements, the University of Pittsburgh Medical center estimates that between 1.7 and 3 million sports and recreation-related concussions are sustained each year.
The answer to the problem may lie in cognitive monitoring systems such as the Reflexion Edge. By measuring crucial cognitions such as reaction time, peripheral vision and reaction time, athletic trainers and coaches can use the Edge to asses the cognitive health and ability of their athletes, allowing them to make objective, data-backed decisions when an athlete's health is on the line. The Edge allows these individuals to analyze each athlete's cognitive state following a 30-second to 1-minute test.
Visual training is crucial to every athlete's overall performance, yet it is chronically underutilized among amateur and youth teams. The Edge allows athletes to improve their mental acuity, instruction following, concentration, problem solving, multitasking, decision-making, logic, pattern recognition or eye-hand coordination while simultaneously assessing their cognitive state.
Rapid and objective cognitive assessment and training on the portable Reflexion Edge also allows athletes with cognitive injuries to exercise vestibular and oculomotor systems evaluate and brain function during the recovery process.