All Playing Levels
The values kids learn from football set them up for success on and off the field. The game inspires character, leadership, resilience and teamwork — key life skills that transfer from the huddle to the classroom and beyond.
If there’s a particular program you’re looking at, ask some other parents or other people in your community for some background. They may have had some experience with that program and they also might have some other suggestions for you. You will also want to research the league that the program plays in to see if there are any issues.
Plan a meeting. One thing you should not do is just blindly register your child for a program. You will want to reach out to an administrator to set up a meeting to come and talk about what the program has to offer and just get a good feel of it. Look at things like how they do registration, the fields they play on and their fundraising efforts. You may also want to ask how parents can be volunteers, especially if you’re someone that likes to be involved.
Are the coaches and the program USA Football certified? With all of the questions that you might have for a program, this one is very important. Given the landscape of football today, you want to make sure that your child will be taught the proper fundamentals and learn how to play the game in a safe manner.
Ask to see the equipment. As a parent, you owe it to yourself to ensure that the program your child will play for has quality equipment. Ask to see the helmets they use and look to see if the certification dates are current. Also, look at the shoulder pads to see what kind of condition they’re in. You can tell a lot about a program by looking at the equipment.
Finding the right youth football program for your child can be a challenge so you need to do your homework and ask the right questions. Youth football is a great sport for your child to play but you have to make sure that the team, program, and league is reputable, the coaching is good, and the equipment and fields are safe.
(via USA Football)
Tackle: Conditioning, practice, and game schedules vary depending on the age of the athlete, where you reside, and the form of football being played. Time commitment on a tackle football team varies per region depending on where you live. However, generally expect four two-hour practices a week, plus a game on the weekend.
Here are USA Football’s recommendations for preseason and regular season practices (ages 6-14)
- Preseason Recommendation: Following the preseason acclimatization period, it is recommended youth teams conduct no more than four practices per week. Coaches are to limit the amount of full contact to no more than 30 minutes per day and no more than 120 minutes per week. No two-a-day practices should be allowed at any point throughout the preseason. Rationale: USA Football recognizes preseason practices may require more full-contact time than practices occurring in the regular season to allow for teaching fundamentals with sufficient repetition to prepare for the season. Coaches are encouraged to introduce contact through a progressive manner to ensure they are using proper technique before full-contact (Thud & Live Action) drills are allowed.
- Regular Season Recommendation: Once the regular season begins and games commence, USA Football recommends the number of practices per week decrease to three to account for the weekly game. Coaches are to limit the amount of full contact to no more than 30 minutes per day and no more than 90 minutes per week. Rationale: At this point in the season, games have begun, and full-contact exposure rates have increased on a weekly basis for players. To account for this, the recommendation to eliminate one practice per week and decrease the amount of time dedicated to full-contact drills decreases the number of exposures per week.
Flag: With most leagues only meeting once per week, many families easily squeeze flag football into their packed schedules. Typically, teams practice for about 45 minutes before their game, and then the game itself is usually an hour or less. Of course, some high-level competitive leagues offer more playing time, if that’s something you’re looking for.
Tackle: Typically a youth tackle football program can range from $100-$400, but is determined by the region of the country in where you reside.
Flag: Since all NFL FLAG leagues are independently owned and operated, registration fees are set by league operators and vary from league to league. The list of necessary equipment is much shorter and therefore less costly than tackle. All you need are flag football belts and flags, a mouth guard, and gloves if you prefer.
Finding a league near you is easy. Visit our Find a League page. There you can enter your zip code to search for Flag leagues in your community, and contact those leagues to register to play. You’ll also find information on Pop Warner and high school tackle football.
Football, as we know it, is changing. The way the game used to be taught and played is different from what’s happening today. Player protection and injury prevention are front and center, causing a major culture shift within the sport. Leagues across all levels are adopting new technology, regimes and regulations in an effort to reduce the risk of injury, as researchers continue to focus on the impact of sustained contact in youth sports.
To help parents better understand what’s changed, we’ve highlighted the key developments in football safety awareness.
Limiting Contact in Practice
In 2015, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) released a study that found concussions are more likely to occur during a tackle football practice rather than a game, with the reason being that there are simply more practices than games. So, to better protect players, leagues across the country began to decrease the amount of person-to-person contact that occurred during practice.
One study in particular followed a group of high school football players within the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association. After new rules and restrictions were passed defining and limiting the amount of contact allowed in practice, the rate of sports-related concussions decreased by 57 percent.
New Rule Changes
To eliminate potentially risky behavior that could lead to injuries, the NFL, the National Federation of High School Sports (NFHS) and athletic associations alike have changed several football rules, banning certain drills and enforcing new penalties.
For example, full-contact drills, such as the Oklahoma drill, blindside blocks, pop-up kicks, clipping, and targeting are no longer allowed. Additionally, many schools have implemented their own safety precautions by limiting the amount of players on the field and in pads during practice, as well as eliminating contact in two-a-day practices.
Coaches and players also receive mandatory training in concussion recognition and management to increase football safety awareness. In fact, concussion reoccurrences across 20 different high school sports have declined over the last decade, likely as a result of better protocols in concussion management.
Teaching Proper Technique
Across all levels of football, coaches are teaching a new way to tackle. Certain coaches used to teach players to put their heads in front of the ball-carrier when making a tackle, essentially using their head as an extra limb to prevent their opponents from moving forward.
Today, coaches are employing new strategies that reduce the risk of head injuries, even at the professional level. For example, the Seattle Seahawks teach “Hawk tackling,” which is a rugby-style method that focuses on using your shoulder for leverage while hitting the ball-carrier’s thighs. And in youth football, players learn to wrap and roll instead of going in head first.
Even more, the NFL Way to Play is an educational initiative designed to demonstrate proper technique, explain fundamental concepts and share best practices. Football safety efforts are also being implemented in flag leagues where to successfully remove their opponent’s flags, players must square up, bend their knees and align their head exactly as they would in tackle football.
As we continue to learn from research—some studies have found adverse mental health and cognitive functions associated with tackle football, while others haven’t—parents and guardians should feel empowered to promote conversations around football safety.
Parents should inquire about their league’s strategies in preventing injuries. Understanding the ways in which a program is trying to protect its players, coupled with reading the emerging research, can help parents and guardians make informed decisions.
While there are studies that find that adverse mental health and cognitive function are associated with tackle football, other independent studies by researchers at accredited institutions found no increase in the risk of certain neurocognitive disease compared with athletes engaged in other varsity sports or their non-football playing classmates. As these studies note, they address complicated scientific questions that are the subject of ongoing research.
Janssen, Pieter HH, et al., "High school football and late-life risk of neurodegenerative syndromes, 1956-1970," 92 Mayo Clinic Proceedings 1 (2017); Savica, Rodolfo, et. al, “High School Football and Risk of Neurodegeneration: A Community-Based Study,” 87 Mayo Clinic Proceedings 335 (2012); Alosco, Michael L., et. al, “Age of First Exposure to American Football and Long-Term Neuropsychiatric and Cognitive Outcomes,” 7 Translational Psychiatry 1236 (2017); Stamm, Julie M., et. al, “Age of First Exposure to Football and Later-Life Cognitive Impairment in Former NFL Players,” 2015 Neurology.
No, the risk of injury in high school football is not on the rise. In fact, the National Federation of High Schools’ injury data from the 2018-19 season (the most recent available) show that the injury rate has actually declined compared to last season.
Yes. The National Federation of High Schools’ data from the most recent season show not only that there were fewer concussions when compared to the prior season, but that concussions made up a smaller portion of injuries overall.
Indeed, there have been numerous initiatives in youth football aiming to protect players from unnecessary risk. These include:
- An increased focus on teaching fundamental tackling techniques to fit a player’s progression in skills and development;
- Robust certification processes for coaches, including a health and safety curriculum created by leading experts covering, among many other health and safety topics, concussion recognition, treatment, and return-to-play protocols;
- Education on the proper size and fit of helmets and shoulder pads in an effort to reduce the risk of injury on the field; and
- Nationwide passage of Zackery Lystedt laws that require any youth football player suspected of sustaining a concussion be removed from a game or practice, not to return until the player receives written medical clearance.
Players and their parents should make informed decisions about the values and risks of playing any contact sport.
Studies prepared by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Dr. R. Dawn Comstock, director of the National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance System and associate professor of epidemiology at Colorado Children’s Hospital, reported that while the rate of competition-related concussions have increased, the rate of concussions during practice dropped below 5.0 per 1,000 athletic exposures to 4.77 for the first time since 2010-11, when it was 3.11.
Participation in sports, including in youth and high school football, builds characteristics long-associated with academic excellence, including diligence, time-management skills, focus, and self-esteem.
NCAA statistics indicate a graduation success rate of 79% for FBS and FCS college football players, an all-time high for FCS football. African-American FBS football players are graduating at a rate 11 percent higher than black male students in the general student body; for white FBS players, the graduation rate is 7 percent higher than for white male students in the general student body.
Similarly, certain surveys and studies have shown that student athletes graduate at higher rates and have higher GPAs than non-athletes. For instance, a 2007 survey conducted by the Minnesota State High School League found that the average GPA of high school athletes was higher than that of high school non-athletes. The same survey found that high school athletes missed fewer school days. Similarly, studies on Kansas high school students in the 2008-09 and 2011-12 academic years found that student athletes not only graduated at higher rates but also missed fewer school days.
Trevor Born. High Standard for GPA, in Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 14, 2007.
Lumpkin, Angela, et al., “Comparing the Academic Performance of High School Athletes and Non-Athletes in Kansas in 2008-2009,” 4 JSAS 1 (Mar. 2012); Lumpkin, Angela, “Participation in Interscholastic Sports: Do the Academic Performances of Athletes and Non-Athletes Differ?” Univ. of Kan. (2014)
Playing football helps kids develop a sense of discipline, teamwork and responsibility. But when it comes to the best age to start playing, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Some families are ready to compete right away, while others wait a few years before participating. It really depends on the child and their personal development.
NFL FLAG offers non-contact programs for boys and girls starting at age 5 through 17 years old.
Pop Warner offers various options from flag to tackle programs based on the athletes age and weight, starting at age 5 through 14 years old. Check out some of the benefits of playing Pop Warner.
These are signs to look out for that may indicate your child is ready to join an organized football team:
- Physical development: Being a member on any sports team takes a certain level of coordination and gross motor skills. Coaches tailor their practice to each age group. For example, children aged 5-to 7-years-old learn the basics, while 8-to 10-year-olds focus on position-specific skills and are more emotionally mature. But in general, your child should have enough coordination to run up and down the field while holding a football.
- Understanding teamwork: One of the biggest benefits of organized sports is that children learn what it means to be a teammate. This is especially true in football where there are so many moving parts and every player’s contribution counts. If you feel that your child is ready to understand sportsmanship and teamwork, they will gain a lot from being a part of a football team.
- Discipline: Playing on a team requires children to come to practice, learn the rules, listen to coaches, and participate in drills and other activities. They make a commitment to work hard and show up every week. And by doing so, they gain a sense of discipline. Parents should feel comfortable that their children can respond well to a structured team environment.
The first rule of flag football is pretty straight forward: there’s no contact allowed. That includes tackling, diving, blocking, and screening. Instead, players wear flags that hang along their sides by a belt. To “tackle” the person in possession of the ball, the opposing team needs to pull one or both of their flags off. Visit the NFL FLAG website to find a complete rundown of the basic rules of flag football.
NFL FLAG is looking for highly motivated league organizers that are passionate about growing the game. Get in touch to discuss starting your own NFL FLAG league.
- Interested in affiliating your existing league with NFL FLAG? Learn more here.
- Interested in starting a new league with NFL FLAG? Learn more here.
- Check out NFL FLAG’s League Organizer Guide to understand the expectations for NFL FLAG leagues.
NFL FLAG will review the amount of leagues in that area, and require every new league organizer to complete a background check as part of the approval process. The approval process generally takes two to three weeks.
There is no startup fee to become an NFL FLAG league. It is required that all leagues have a $1 million liability insurance policy and list Reigning Champs Football LLC (operators of NFL FLAG) as a certificate holder.