Football is the most popular television sport in the United States. This means that many kids watch live and televised amatuer, high school, college and professional football and observe their parents watching professional and college football every weekend from September until January. So it is no surprise that many of them want to play football. However as we have begun to learn, football is a dangerous game: the risk of serious injury, concussion, and permanent brain damage is very real. But kids don’t get concussions (or brain injuries) playing fantasy football. Fantasy football builds brains!
Fantasy football is an online game where players build their own fantasy teams of professional football players who accumulate points based on their performance on the field. The best thing about fantasy football is that it is football that builds the brains of kids rather than causes brain damage.
Before talking about the virtues of fantasy football for kids, I want to comment on the concerns about concussions in kids from playing sports. The mission of LearningWorks for Kids is to transform kids’ digital play into opportunities for brain development and learning. In today’s digital world, there are many legitimate worries that too much screen time is unhealthy for our kids, if not directly damaging their brains. Our team at LearningWorks for Kids is rightly concerned that some kids (probably less than 10% of kids) might meet these criteria. However, even for the vast majority of kids where our efforts are to make digital play more productive, we strongly encourage parents to implement a healthy “Play Diet” that includes a large proportion of physical play. While physical play includes competitive sports that have the risk of injury, our suggestion is not to avoid these sport, but to take appropriate precautions such as the use of up-to-date safety equipment, training coaches in proper techniques, and limiting contact sports for younger children.
Parents are actively discouraging their kids from playing football due to the fear of concussions, and there has been a significant drop in youth participation over the past decade. Kids have been choosing to play other sports, particularly basketball, which is played by approximately 15% of kids between the ages of 6 and 12. This is followed by baseball/softball (at 13%), outdoor soccer (at 9%), tackle football (at 3.3%), and interestingly, flag football (at 2.6%). Concussions can occur from playing any of these sports. While football is most problematic for serious injuries and concussion, other sports such as ice hockey, lacrosse, and soccer also present significant opportunities for concussions. But the benefits of playing sports (such as developing the habit of exercise, becoming part of a team, and the pure joy and pleasure of play) should not be underestimated or ignored.
Interestingly, not only is there an outcry over the risks of youth tackle football but, there has also been a recent campaign against kids playing fantasy football. As of 2017, fantasy football (the most popular of the fantasy sports) is no longer being marketed to children. In the past, sites such as NFL Rush (the official NFL site for kids) and Sports Illustrated for Kids had fantasy sites directed at kids. However, negative feedback suggested these sites were related to gambling and primarily a marketing tool to get children to become lifelong NFL fans, resulted in their closure. I see this outcry as short-sighted and appreciate the many virtues in kids who love sports and can transform their interests into useful academic and problem-solving skills.
In contrast to concerns about brain trauma from playing tackle football, I believe that there are very good brain-based reasons for kids to play fantasy football and other fantasy sports. Playing with parents, siblings, and friends can foster many opportunities for collaboration, connection, and fun.
Here are some ways that fantasy football is good for your brain:
- Math is a necessary component. Fantasy sports are based upon statistics and numbers. Fantasy plays need to do computations and also consider probabilities.
- There is a new game every week. It takes persistence to stick with your team and a willingness to do the ongoing research to see who is playing and playing well.
- Things don’t always go according to the game plan. Fantasy players need to be flexible when their team has injuries or loses their starting position.
- Knowledge is important – it’s only partially luck. The more you know and do research, the better your team is likely to be.