Should children be allowed to play dangerous sports?

You’re sitting in the stands, watching your child play hockey, when suddenly another player swings in from your child’s blindside for a devastating hit to the head. Later in the emergency room, a doctor gives you the news you were worried about; your child has a concussion. Brain injuries, specifically concussions, have come to the surface of most contact sports and these issues have many parents asking, ‘should my child be playing dangerous sports?’

Children lining up to begin a play in a football game (Dineen, 2013).

Children lining up to begin a play in a football game (Dineen, 2013).

First, I think it is important to identify what a dangerous sport is. A dangerous sport is a sport that creates significant risk for the participants, which could cause serious impairments to one’s ability to function normally on a day-to-day basis (Russell, 2005). Rules are in place in these sports to help avoid serious injury, but rules cannot prevent human error from occurring.

Should parents let their children play dangerous sports? To me, the answer is easy; yes, parents should let their children play. The benefits outweigh the risks of letting your child play.

From a philosophical view, J.S. Russell (2007) presents two views that are very interesting; she labels one ‘the common sense view’ and the other ‘the uncommon sense view’.

In her common sense view, she puts forth an important instrumental good, the need for physical risk during child development, as a means to educate children how to handle physical threats they may encounter later in life. You can pull a counter point from this. A childhood lacking physical risk could result in an inability to properly assess future physical risks (Russell, 2007). Along with this problem, the same children will likely have difficulty finding the middle way with respect to physical courage (Russell, 2007). Having said this, the physical risks that I am referring to are those within reason, and sports like hockey, and football go beyond what is necessary to achieve the instrumental goods of this view.

Minor hockey body check (Vaughan, 2001).

Minor hockey body check (Vaughan, 2001).

The second view (uncommon view) takes value in dangerous sports through the development of one’s self-affirmation. J.S. Russell, discusses that “children are involved daily in a process of expanding the limits of their being, physically, intellectually and emotionally in a constant, continuous process of self-creation and discovery of what physical abilities they possess and of what they are capable of.” What you can take away from this quote is by limiting a child’s participation in dangerous sports you are limiting the development of their self-affirmation as a person. To reiterate this, ‘we discover and affirm who we are and what we can be by confronting and attempting to extend boundaries” (Russell, 2005). This rationalizes the excessive danger in football and hockey because these sports provide a setting to accomplish the development of one’s self-affirmation.

Now you may be thinking, why not start dangerous sports later in life?

This seems like a good idea however, J.S. Russell (2007) found that adults who pick up dangerous sports later in life often have regret they were not enrolled as a child and that they ‘missed out’. She specifically refers to “time-limited opportunities for self-affirmation” that are only available to children. Additionally she goes further to state that our potential to learn athletic skills is also limited to pre-adolescence.

Knowing this, would you limit your child’s involvement in contact ‘dangerous’ sports?

Some governing bodies of sports, that are labeled as dangerous, have stepped in and set a standard for when they felt it was appropriate for children to begin body checking. Hockey Canada set body contact for players age 11 and up, reasoning that checking in hockey increased players chances of receiving a concussion by four times over players that did not body-check at the same age (Hruby, 2013). This decision allows young players to develop the fundamentals of hockey first,  then graduate to body contact when they are more experienced and comfortable on the ice.

Two young hockey players battling for a puck (Jackson, 2010).

Two young hockey players battling for a puck (Jackson, 2010).

In recent news, ‘The Choice’, an article discussing whether hitting in youth football should be included in lower age groups put forward some interesting points. Looking at statistics from the article, “Virginia Tech and Wake Forest researchers recently found that 7- and 8-year-old boys received an average of 80 head hits per season, while boys ages nine through 12 received 240 hits. Some of the impacts were 80g of force or greater, equivalent to a serious car crash” (Hruby, 2013). Looking at these stats one’s immediate response might be to raise the hitting age to twelve and up. My question to you is, Do you want your child entering the contact realm at 13, an age where boys weight and height greatly varies, and have them learn how to hit? You will have a learning curve time period, when players learn what a hit feels like, both on the hitting and receiving side, as well as what illegal hits and dangerous hits are. Is it smart to do this at an age group where size varies substantially and when hitting is statistically supported to be on the up swing?

The article also talks about how USA Football is handling this problem. They are maintaining the younger hitting ages, but ‘the league is aggressively pushing the safe tackling concept on youth coaches and nervous parents through a program called ‘Heads Up.’” (Hruby, 2013). This intervention at a young age of safe hitting puts the sport in a good place to maintain it’s roots of body contact, while implementing safety measures to keep parents content (Hruby, 2013). This is a good middle-way, it allows the child to still experience the self-affirmation of playing a dangerous sport, yet instils values in them at a young age to hit in a safe manner. This will hopefully reduce the amount of hits to the head and thus reduce head injuries and concussions in the sport.

The benefits of developing a child’s self-affirmation through participation in a dangerous sport are evident. They expand personal boundaries and also develop instrumental goods such as physical courage. The risks are worth the rewards in your child’s development.


Author: Shane O’Hanlon



Dineen, P. (photographer). (2013). Retrieved November 15, 2014, from:

Hruby, Patrick. (2013, November 14) The choice. Sports on earth. Retrieved from

Jackson, R. (photographer). (2010). Retrieved November 15, 2014, from:

Russell, J.S. (2005). The value of dangerous sports. Journal of the philosophy of sport, 32, 1 – 19.

Russell, J.S. (2007). Children and dangerous sport and recreation. Journal of the philosophy of sport, 34, 176-193.

Vaughan, A. (photographer). (2001). Retrieved November 15, 2014, from:

3 thoughts on “Should children be allowed to play dangerous sports?

  1. I saw your blog and really enjoyed it. I feel with your background and education, you have a very unique perspective on the issues you write about. I have a unique sports website, that is dedicated to bringing citizen sports journalists to the forefront by highlighting great writers like yourself. You can create new content or re-post your blog content on and increase your blogs exposure while also getting more interaction from readers. Let me know if you are interested!

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