Football may have better television ratings than baseball or soccer, but the sport still has a popularity crisis on its hands because kids aren’t play. As parents have learned more about CTE, concussions, and the other long-term health risks that come from the trauma at the core of the sport, more and more have opted to have their kids avoid the gridiron. Overall, it is estimated that 20 percent fewer kids are signing up for football now than in 2011. Naturally, USA Football, one of the bodies governing the youth version of the sport, is looking for solutions. Now, they’ve stumbled on an unlikely one: more tackling.
Though some medical professionals and coaches have suggested holding off tackling until college, USA Football’s new Rookie Tackle program seeks to revolutionize youth football by teaching kids how to tackle properly and safely from a young age (with the hope that it will ultimately reduce concussion-related injuries). The program is meant to place a focus on fundamentals and developing skills while cutting out things like fumble recoveries, kick returns, and three-point stances, all of which have been shown to increase injury risk.
Much like how kids play tee-ball before heading off to baseball or softball, Rookie Tackle scales the game down to teach kids the basics. Rookie Tackle fields are significantly smaller than a normal football field and will have fewer players so that the game is less chaotic. Kids will also start playing flag football before transitioning to full-on 11-on-11, this way, kids will be old enough to really learn how to tackle instead of putting themselves and others in danger with reckless, sloppy tackling.
So far, Rookie Tackle has been adopted by 10 youth football leagues, including in Philadelphia and Long Island. It’s too soon to say whether the program will prove to be a success but if it can truly reduce injuries and make the game safer, it just might be the beginning of a revolution in youth football.