Youth football is making big changes to improve player safety
As sports go, it’s no secret that football is the most physical of the bunch. And that’s been a source of frustration for parents who believe the game has become too violent for their children. For good reason.
For every dozen feel-good, human-interest stories about a young man living his football dream, it seems like there’s at least one in which life was cut short because of ostensible brain-related diseases. Tyler Sash, the 27-year-old safety of the New York Giants comes to mind. So does Rashaan Salaam, the former Heisman Trophy-winning running back and Chicago Bear standout.
Whether there’s sufficient evidence to suggest that football was a contributing factor in either tragedy is still up for debate, but one thing is certain: football is a contact sport, and contact has impact.
So it’s encouraging to see that USA Football, the national governing body for amateur players, is expected to drastically change the rules of the youth game to curtail some of its more violent trends, according to a new report in the New York Times. Among those rule changes are: shortening the length of the field, trimming the number of players from 11 to six or nine, eliminating punts and kickoffs, and having players start off in a crouch versus a three-point stance.
In essence, the idea to is to revert from tackling to flag football without doing away with the foundational qualities of the sport. It’s an encouraging sign that the amateur governing body, and even the National Football League, recognizes that change is needed to ensure the long-term health of participants and the sport in general. Most people point to studies that show clear associations between cognitive degenerative diseases and the collision-like nature of tackle, which is compounded when you consider the hyper-sensitive stage of cognitive development among kids.
It seems like more parents are taking those statistics to heart. Among the things that the Times pointed out is that participation in tackle football by boys ages 6 to 12 had dropped by nearly 20 percent since 2009. Flag football by contrast grew 8.7 percent in the last year alone. As a result, officials for the League and for youth organizations like Pop Warner have tried to come up with a balance to address health concerns and re-engage parents and young players.
Is it too little too late? The likelihood is that youth football will remain popular well into the foreseeable future. Concerns related to the game in general, however, are very real. You can bet that as long as the NFL is making headlines for things like degenerative brain conditions, parents will remain a skeptical bunch.