Concussions. They may be more controversial to discuss than global warming.

Concussions. They may be more controversial to discuss than global warming. It seems no two studies agree on concussion risks, nor could I find a study of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, the neurodegenerative disease thought to be associated with a history of repetitive head impacts, on non-athletes. So, how as a parent do you decide if you should let your child participate in athletics at all and if so, in what sport and at what age?

Keep in mind I am going to give you my opinion only, as I am not a medical professional and therefore not qualified to give you medical advice. But I have been around sports now for 45 years and have seen my share of concussions as a player, teammate and coach. But before I give you my take let's take a deeper look at concussions, from what they are to who is at risk.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention defines a concussion as "a traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth. This sudden movement can cause the brain to bounce around or twist in the skull, creating chemical changes in the brain and sometimes stretching or damaging brain cells." According to the CDC, medical providers may describe a concussion as a mild brain injury because concussions are usually not life-threatening, though the effects of a concussion may be serious.

So, which group of high school athletes is most prone to concussions? On this I found some interesting facts. Most studies agreed that high school football has a higher rate of concussions than other sports, with most putting ice hockey second and girls' soccer third. However, girls' soccer athletes, according to WebMD, were at a higher risk than any other sport when compared within sports played by both boys and girls. Heading of the ball and a lack of proper protection were the two biggest factors mentioned in that risk.

The final statistics I want to look at are concussions amongst various age groups, keeping in mind that according to the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, while recent studies have shown an increase in TBI's diagnosed in emergency rooms across the Unites States, no studies have evaluated trends in concussion diagnosis across the general US population.

In the Journal's study of 8,828,248 members of a private-payers insurance group, 43,884 were diagnosed with a concussion. Of these, 55% were male and over 32% were in the adolescent age group (10-19 years old). The highest incidence of concussions was seen in patients aged 15-19 years of age, followed by 10-14, 20-24, and 5-9, with the largest increase in the 10-14 age group (143%) and 15-19 (87%). So with all that said, what is my point and what is my opinion about the whole concussion discussion?

First and foremost, I believe every parent needs to do their own research before making a decision about your child participating in athletics, including how non-sports related activities can result in concussions. While there may be a higher rate of concussions due to sports, there are many activities that can result in the brain receiving a bump, blow or jolt that can lead to a concussion.

The next thing I think parents need to look at is the percentage of concussion injuries to overall participation. Even in the highest age group from the above study, the rate was 16.5 per 1000, which is higher than we'd like but hardly an epidemic. And no study that I have seen gauges the long-term effect on those who only play sports through high school or college, including their propensity toward CTE.

Finally, and the thing I most want to focus on is not if to allow your child to participate but when? I hear so many people say they think they'll wait until their child is older, bigger, more developed, more mature. They're thinking they'll wait until maybe middle school or high school when they're son or daughter are more able to defend themselves and to take the punishment more and in their mind reasoning less of a risk for concussion. On this point I disagree.

As much as we would like to protect our kids from the world, including concussions, I think the value of athletic participation and the lessons learned that carry over into life are worth the relatively low risk. I also believe that a child is better off starting when they are young, learning proper technique for the sport or sports they play, rather than waiting until they are in middle school or high school and taking on kids who have played that sport for years, such as football.

If a seven or eight year old has improper technique, the resulting impact at that age is not likely to cause a concussion or any other serious injury for that matter. Kids that age all starting together learn together at a time they are least prone to get hurt. Take the same kid and start him playing football at 13 or 14, learning proper technique while going up against a kid who has several years of coaching and knowing how to prevent injury, who hits much harder than a seven year old, and now the opportunity to get a concussion or injury is increased.

Do your due diligence as a parent, get all the facts, don't take the opinions of another parent or even a sports writer but a medical professional. But when all is said and done I say don't make your child live in a bubble their whole life, let them be a kid. After all, they only get once chance to be a childhood and they shouldn't be deprived of that because you're more afraid than they are.

Contact Matt Cole by email at and follow him on Twitter @MacSentinel.