USA Football introduces Rookie Tackle pilot program

June 8, 2017 / Football
From USA Football

Rookie Tackle, a bridge game between flag football and 11-player tackle, is designed to introduce young athletes to tackle football. In alignment with the U.S. Olympic Committee’s American Development Model (ADM), USA Football will pilot Rookie Tackle this fall as part of a long-term athlete development pathway in the sport.

A fun, skill-development-centric version of the game for young athletes, Rookie Tackle will be evaluated throughout an 11-league pilot season. This version of football delivers a progression practiced in a variety of sports, including tee-ball to “coach pitch” to “player pitch” in baseball.

A key outcome of the pilot is to learn how players, parents, coaches and youth league commissioners embrace its concept and how it may be improved for a wider spectrum of youth sports programs in future seasons. Youth players’ physical activity also will be measured to gauge fitness benefits specific to the small-sided game. Similar versions of the sport have been played in some youth leagues for years. USA Football continues its commitment to innovative new standards by introducing the USOC’s ADM to football through Rookie Tackle, joining a family of initiatives including Heads Up Football, which advances coaching education and safer play in high schools and youth leagues nationwide.

“This is an exciting step in our sport’s evolution for the good of young athletes,” said USA Football CEO Scott Hallenbeck. “The 11 youth programs participating in this pilot season will help us evaluate Rookie Tackle and the benefits of a player pathway for athletes, coaches and parents.”

“It’s a game that teaches so much, it’s a great education, it’s a stepping stone, it’s a transition to 11-player football and I can’t think of a better game that does it,” said USA Football Master Trainer and National High School Hall of Fame football coach Chuck Kyle. Kyle, the head football coach at Cleveland St. Ignatius High School, also serves as the Cleveland Browns’ youth football advisor. Kyle has helped the Browns become the first NFL team to assist USA Football in establishing a Rookie Tackle pilot league.

“The American Development Model stresses long term athlete development principles to encourage our kids to develop a wide range of athletic skills to strengthen their foundation for success and enjoyment in sport,” said United States Olympic Committee Chief of Sport Performance Alan Ashley. “I commend USA Football’s leadership for moving towards the American Development Model for the betterment of the sport’s future.”

Key aspects of Rookie Tackle game play

  • Six, seven or eight players on the field per team
  • 40-yard-by-35-yard playing field size, scaled for a youth athlete’s age and skill level
  • Maximizes field space by playing two games simultaneously on a regulation-sized field
  • Players learn multiple positions and skills; position-specialization is not introduced
  • Smaller teams foster more playing time and opportunities for improvement, success 

  • Players on offensive and defensive lines begin every play in a two-point stance 

  • Removal of special teams encourages more plays from scrimmage and skill development 

  • More focused, individualized coaching attention by virtue of a smaller roster 

  • A video about Rookie Tackle and its game play can be found here.

Rookie Tackle pilot locations and organizations

  • Austin, Texas: Hill Country Pop Warner
  • Cleveland, Ohio: Cleveland Rookie Tackle
  • Frisco, Texas: Frisco Football League Indianapolis, Ind.: Indy Youth Sports
  • Lakewood, Colorado: JeffCo Midget Football Association
  • Lexington, Kentucky: Central Kentucky Youth Football League
  • Oregon City, Oregon: Tualatin Valley Youth Football League
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The School District of Philadelphia
  • Smyrna, Georgia: Georgia Girls Tackle Football
  • Westfield, Indiana: Westfield Youth Football League
  • Yaphank, New York: Suffolk County PAL Football League

About USA Football: USA Football designs and delivers premier educational, developmental and competitive programs to advance and grow the sport. As the sport’s national governing body, member of the U.S. Olympic Committee and organizer of the U.S. National Team for international competition, USA Football partners with leaders in medicine, child advocacy and athletics to support positive football experiences for youth, high school and other amateur players.

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