UW–Madison’s Stamm weighs brain risks for youth in sports on WPR’s ‘Central Time’

UW–Madison’s Julie Stamm went on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Central Time” recently to talk about to talk about the risk of brain injuries for youth playing sports.

Julie Stamm

Stamm, a clinical assistant professor in the School of Education’s Department of Kinesiology and the author of “The Brain on Youth Sports: The Science, the Myths, and the Future,” discussed new research on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a fatal degenerative brain disease found in people who experience repeated head trauma. This new research, out of Boston University, suggests that CTE can be a risk even for athletes at the youth level.

“I think for a long time, CTE was thought to be a disease of professional athletes,” says Stamm. “You had to play for 20 years or 10 years in the NFL to get the disease. And we know (now) that’s not the case. The recent study looked only at individuals under age 30. And the vast majority of them, 70 percent or more, were amateur athletes. And many of those only played through high school. So this is telling us that for some people, they may be at risk even if they don’t go on to play years in the NFL or … (in) college.”

Despite the risks, Stamm acknowledges there are a lot of benefits to participating in youth sports, and she offers recommendations to make them safer. “Every kid should have the opportunity to play sports,” she says. “So we shouldn’t be getting rid of sports where you can modify them to make them safer and eliminate or minimize repetitive brain trauma.”

One strategy Stamm offers to make sports safer is to delay participation until high school, or at least middle school. “When we start young, not only are we potentially disrupting all of the brain development that’s happening, but we’re also accumulating more hits over time,” she says. “So if we can delay the start of those impacts until we’re a bit older … we’re minimizing or reducing the overall career impacts.”

Stamm also recommends that coaches reduce “hits” in practice. “There are many championship teams across the country that don’t hit at all, with some coached by NFL players,” she says.

To learn more, check out the full segment at wpr.org.

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