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Boxing for kids: The positive and negative effects of trained fighting

In light of the Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao match last weekend, questions about the relevance of boxing have resurfaced.

"(T)he sport's fundamental problem: It is too brutal for all but a few," Bob Arum, Pacquiao's boxing promoter, told The New York Times.

"We can’t get white middle-class kids into boxing. Let’s be honest: No parent in their right mind is going to let them come to a gym. I wouldn’t let my kid go into boxing," Arum said in the Times article.

The demographic of those involved in boxing, and the aggressive nature of the sport are two major factors in the ongoing argument of whether children should be encouraged, or even allowed, to participate.

According to an article published by health.com, there are legitimate arguments for both sides, including the one made by trainers in boxing gyms that many kids in urban areas start boxing to learn how to defend themselves, and end up getting in fewer fights at school and on the street.

Though the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended doctors oppose youth boxing because of head injury risks, those in the boxing community say "it teaches young people discipline and work ethic better than any other sport," according to health.com.

On the other side are numerous studies on the long-term damage suggesting kids stay away from the sport.

The American Academy of Neurology released a medical paper in 2013 on the long-term structural and functional brain changes in boxers and mixed martial arts fighters.

Results of the study show that frequent fighting, "especially when starting your career at age 15" can be "associated with volume reduction in certain areas of the brain and reduced connectivity between the basal ganglia and other regions of the brain," says a Sports Blog Nation article.

Starting young and boxing for an extended period of time is often the reason that many physical effects are long-term, and especially dangerous for boxers.

Time reported in 2011 that an estimated 18,000 children and teens are involved in amateur boxing, and that among those amateur boxers around 6.5 percent to 51.6 percent of injuries are concussions.

"Concussions are particularly concerning in children and adolescents, because there is evidence that a child's brain is more vulnerable to injury and that recovery from concussion is prolonged when compared with adults," said the authors of a statement made by the American Academy of Pediatrics, according to Time.

Suggestions made by the AAP and Canadian Pediatric Society, as reported in the Time article, include:

  • Parents, educators and coaches knowing about the risks and hazards of boxing.
  • Adults should encourage teen athletes to pursue other sports with less physical impact.
  • Boxing associations should provide dedicated medical personnel who can consult with teens before, during and after a match. Teen boxers also receive regular screening for neurocognitive deficits.

Mandy Morgan is an intern for the Deseret News Enterprise team, on the family beat. Mandy is a true-blue Aggie, studying print journalism and political science at USU. Send an email to mmorgan@deseretnews.com.