Study: Children under 12 shouldn’t play tackle football

September 19, 2017 / FootballSports Medicine
A study released Tuesday concluded that children who participate in tackle football before the age of 12 are at a greater risk for incurring later-life brain issues.

The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Translational Psychiatry. It’s believed to be the first that shows the correlation between exposure to tackle football at an early age and long-term brain issues for athletes who didn’t play professionally.

The study concluded that “children exposed to tackle football before the age of 12 are two times more likely to develop behavioral and emotional impairments later in life than those who start playing after that age,” as reported by It also found that kids who played tackle football before age 12 were three times more likely to develop symptoms of depression.


“I really wish I could say I was surprised,” by the results, Robert Stern, a Boston University neuroscientist who has been studying the connection between repetitive head trauma and later-in-life neurocognitive issues for the past 10 years, told ESPN in an interview. “Instead, it was more, ‘Oh yeah, this really is a big deal.’ And it’s just one more piece of the puzzle that, at least when it comes to youth football, has now gotten me over the edge to say, ‘You know, we shouldn’t be having our kids hitting their heads over and over and over while their brains are developing this way.'”

Stern said he was not prepared to offer a specific point at which kids shouldn’t play (“I don’t know if there’s a magic age.”), but he did caution against reading the findings to suggest the brain was safe if kids waited until 12 to begin participating in tackle football. In a news release, Stern said that “more research on this topic is needed before any recommendations on policy or rule changes can be made.”

Many communities have dropped tackling from their youth football programs, instead playing with flags. The move not only helps protect kids but teaches them the fundamentals and specific skills before introducing them to contact.

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