High school football season is now in full swing, although a recent study suggests that America’s Friday night lights may be fading just a bit. A study in JAMA Pediatrics shows more and more athletes are deciding not to play tackle football, possibly due to concerns over concussion risks.

Cleveland Clinic orthopedic surgeon Dr. Richard Figler says when it comes to safety for our high school football players, concussion education and awareness are key.

“One of the biggest predictors of recovery is their ability to recognize the symptoms after the injury, rest, recover and then return,” Figler said. “That return should be guided by a physician or a healthcare provider that’s well-versed in the management of concussions.”

Researchers looked at high school football participation rates over a 15-year span.

From 2001 to 2008, participation rates climbed. Since then, annual news reports about tackle football and brain injuries have increased significantly. Because of these reports, we have seen football enrollment decline.

But because concussions can occur in any sport, Figler says it’s important for parents, coaches and athletes themselves to know the signs and symptoms. After a hit to the head, the athlete may look dazed and confused and may be stumbling. Their eyes may look glossy, or they may complain of a headache or ringing in their ears.

These signs indicate that a player should be pulled from the game immediately and appropriately evaluated.

Of course, as with any sport, there are benefits of the activity that should be factored into the decision about whether to play or not. With the rise of obesity, the risk of not playing a sport altogether is a little higher. We also know that children who play sports typically perform better in the classroom and overall have better academic scores. We also see increased social engagement and good behavior, as well as less anxiety and depression, versus children who do not play sports.

The key moment is when a player first reports signs of possible head injury. By removing a player from the field and evaluating their symptoms, we can ensure quicker recovery and more awareness about concussions in sports.