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Study suggests tackle football should wait until high school

A new report published by the Aspen Institute suggests that tackle football shouldn’t be introduced to athletes until high school, which in turn would minimize head impacts and possibly draw more interest from kids who are reluctant to play the game.

In the study, which can be found here, the Aspen Institute specifically offers a handful of recommendations to improve the game. They are:

• USA Football, Pop Warner, and all other youth football organizations shift to a standard of flag football before age 14.

• Those same organizations begin to teach fundamental blocking, tackling, and hitting skills in practice at age 12 — the better to prepare interested athletes for high school football — and do so in a controlled, safe-as-possible manner that does not involve player-to-player and helmet-to-helmet hitting and contact, akin to what the Dartmouth football team does in its practices.

• High school and college football programs also minimize non-game tackling and player collisions by adopting Dartmouth-style instruction and practice standards.

• The football industry and other relevant stakeholders — including high schools and colleges — expand their flag football offerings so that individuals can continue to participate in the sport without having to transition to tackle.

The Aspen Institute’s new report suggest tackle football should wait until high school.

Dartmouth football coach Buddy Teevens doesn’t allow players to hit one another during his practices. Instead, his players tackle dummies and the coaching staff focuses more on the execution of a tackle. Teevens is quoted in the report as saying he’s OK with players waiting until high school to begin tackling.

Here’s some of the Aspen Institute’s analysis:

We project that making flag the standard way of playing football until high school ultimately will benefit an institution many stakeholders care to preserve and enhance. Safety-conscious parents and children will be more likely to participate in youth flag, expanding the pool of potential high school players. High school players will enter tackle football with less prior exposure to collisions and head injuries that could sideline them permanently, given that each concussion makes an athlete more susceptible to additional concussions.

We find it unlikely the quality of high school play will be diminished overall, or the quality of college recruits, if coaches teach the game effectively. Tom Green, Eleanor Roosevelt High School coach and athletic director in Greenbelt, Maryland, says the skills of quarterbacks and wide receivers would not change, adding, “I think it may affect the linemen, the big kids up front, the blocking, [a] lot of those kids get an opportunity to play now with tackle football.” But Green also says high school coaches could adjust and prepare players for college if flag became the standard for kids up to 14.

High school football participation has declined over the last 10 years, and safety is widely believed to be the leading cause. A 2017 study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Translational Psychiatry, suggested that children under the age of 12 should not play tackle football.

Click here to read the Aspen Institute’s report.


One thought on “Study suggests tackle football should wait until high school”

  1. Our school joined TackleBar Football for our 5-8th grade teams with great success!

    TackleBar Football (https://tacklebar.com/)is a safer approach to the game that preserves the tradition and spirit of the sport.

    Players wear traditional football equipment, plus a TackleBar harness that holds two foam bars across the lower back. The defender must track and engage with proper form tackling technique while wrapping the ball carrier and ripping a bar from the harness. With this approach, players stay on their feet rather than taking the ball carrier to the ground.

    As a 20 year high school athletic administrator I strongly recommend TackleBar. It provides a great transition to high school ball.

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