The Future of Youth Football

I came across an article in the New York Times about USA Football experimenting with what they are calling ‘Modified Tackle’ football for youth.  Then again this morning, Nancy Armour wrote about it in the USA Today.  I think this is a great idea.  I have written extensively about youth football – Hustle & Attitude is about providing positive  youth sports experiences for kids; and this includes safety as the minimum requirement.  Where football is concerned, the question of safety has been paramount over the last 18-24 months.   What USA Football is proposing is a step towards making youth football safer – which will make for a more positive experience for children.


Here are my thoughts concerning the NYT article:

  • Is this a crisis situation for football?  Participation among 9-12 yr olds is down 20% since 2009…that’s 20% fewer future high school players.  Where do 99+% of NFL players come from?  College football.  Where do 99+% of college players come from?  High school football.  Make no mistake, if kids stop playing high school football, the NFL pipeline will dry up.  Particularly in light of safer (at least statistically) alternatives like lacrosse and soccer (especially with the new rule eliminating heading below the age of 10).
  • To me, the only criticism detractors can offer is something along the lines of ‘it’s not real football‘…OK, and?  My reaction is similar to my disbelief with baseball coaches who balk at the institution of pitch counts for high schoolers…seriously?!? With all the data we have; doesn’t it just make too much sense to err on the side of caution?
  • What an interesting dichotomy in the responses from the heads of USA Football and Pop Warner football.  I  agree with the director of USA Football that “this is the future of the game”.  And on the flip side…what a very short-sighted view on the part of the Executive Director of Pop Warner.  Seems to me; one of them gets it and one doesn’t.
  • The comparison to youth baseball is a solid one.  Armour emphasizes this point in her USA Today article.  Currently, youth football doesn’t have a similar progression from t-ball to coach pitch to regular baseball with the pitching mound and base path distance differences…yet.  Flag football and this ‘modified tackle’ format might be the beginnings of this.  Something like going from flag football to this new modified tackle to real tackle at high school sounds reasonable.  See my previous post about the idea of ‘hit counts’ for another corollary to youth baseball that could apply to youth football.
  • I really appreciate seeing a recommendation for the children to play multiple positions.  This is a cornerstone of the Hustle & Attitude philosophy.
  • I’m not sure what to make of Jon Gruden’s comments.  There are a lot of smart people out there suggesting kids shouldn’t play tackle football (at least until high school) – I like to think I am one of them.  I agree with Terry O’Neil that youth shouldn’t play tackle until high school.  However, I don’t think Gruden is using the term ‘genius’ in a complementary way.  I’ve heard him hype football as a great game and enthusiastically support the game on Monday Night Football, but his comments here feel like at worst, those of a corporate shill mouthing the words of the bosses who have a game to protect and sell or, at best unenlightened, ignorant, and/or generally dismissive of the current realities.

Finally, a note of concern from the article:  the national rollout is several years away?!?  What are we waiting for; another 20% of children to lose interest in football?  This is a necessary move in the right direction that should be implemented immediately.

One thought on “The Future of Youth Football

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