Barrow Insititute

Growing concerns over concussions from parents and student athletes was seen in a recent survey conducted by Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix. The survey shows only 65 percent of Arizona parents say they will allow their children to play contact sports. Contact sports include football, soccer and basketball. The survey indicates a sharp drop in the last two years of parents allowing their children to play contact sports.

And four in 10 parents say “no” to football for their children, continuing a trend that has seen parental approval of football participation plummet in recent years.

Concussion fears are also strongly impacting teens. Nearly a third of teens say they have decided not to participate in a sport because of concussion fears. This is a 50 percent increase in three years.

Once confined mostly to football, concussion fears have spread to other contact sports. Two years ago, a similar survey found that 82 percent of parents said they would allow their children to participate in contact sports. That number dropped to 65 percent in the survey released Aug. 22 just before the start of the 2019 Arizona high school fall sports season.

“Football has long caused the most concern among parents of high school student-athletes, but it is clear that concussion fears are rising for other contact sports,” says Dr. Javier Cárdenas, director of the Barrow Concussion and Brain Injury Center at Barrow Neurological Institute, which is part of Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center. “We know that sports offer many health benefits. Our challenge is to make sure the public can weigh the benefits against injury risks and make informed decisions.”


Each of the last four years, Barrow has measured the public’s awareness of concussions and how it impacts participation in high school athletics. Greater awareness of sport-related concussions has led to widespread concern over the long-term effects of brain injuries.



The percentage of Arizona parents who say they would not allow their children to play football has risen sharply in three years – from 30 percent in 2016 to 40 percent this year.

Declining parental approval of football tracks with dwindling statewide participation rates. High school football has by far the largest number of players, but that number is declining.

In 2015, 20,929 Arizona boys and girls played 11-player football, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. According to the Arizona Interscholastic Association, in 2018, the number dropped to 15,406 boys and girls, a decline of 26 percent in four seasons.

Girls’ Sports

Among student-athletes who have had concussions, girls (80 percent) are more concerned than boys (56 percent) about the possible long-term impacts of the injury.

About a third of girls said they decided not to participate in at least one sport because of concussion fears, while a little more than a quarter of boys did so. The sports avoided by the largest numbers of girls were football (52 percent), softball (47 percent), volleyball (46 percent) and soccer (44 percent).

Concern over club sports

The survey found that parents believe club sports lag behind school sports in concussion protocols and communications. Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of parents agree with the statement: “Most club sports lack oversight to diagnose/treat concussions.”

And when they were asked who provides “more effective communication about concussion” to student-athletes, 56 percent of parents said school sports, as against 16 percent who said club sports.


“Parents recognize when their children are not being provided appropriate concussion education, instruction and oversight,” Dr. Cárdenas says.

Concerns from student athletes over concussions

About three in 10 teens say they have decided not to play a sport because of concussion, a 50 percent jump over a similar survey in 2016.

Nearly four in 10 teen athletes reported that they had sustained a concussion, more than double the number in 2018.

But high-level competition changed some teens’ views of concussion. More than a quarter of teens agreed with the statement “If the State Championship were on the line, I would play through a concussion.”

“That statistic alarms me as a sports neurologist and a parent of student-athletes,” Cárdenas says. “Concussions are not situational. Trying to play through a concussion is a terrible idea, and in rare cases it could be fatal.”

The Barrow concussion study of teens was conducted in June and July 2019 with a sample of 477 males and females, ages 14 to 18, living in Arizona.  Of these, 169 reported playing school and / or club sports. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.5 percent at 95 percent confidence for the full sample (477), and plus or minus 7.5 percent among high school athletes (169).

The study of parents was conducted in May and June 2019 with a sample of 469 Arizona adults selected randomly.  Of these, 197 were parents of a child or children under the age of 18. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.5 percent for the full sample and plus or minus 7.0 percent among parents of teens.


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