A football report by the Associated Press in late March had nothing to do with the Super Bowl, College Football Playoff or a blockbuster NFL trade. However, in our eyes, it may be football’s most important news in decades with immense, lasting benefits for kids who play the sport.
On March 31, the AP reported that independent non-profit USA Football — the sport’s national governing body and a member of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee — announced eight recommendations for youth tackle football play. This bold, forward-thinking direction has already earned powerful endorsements from four leading sports medicine and health care associations: the American College of Sports Medicine, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, the National Youth Sports Health and Safety Institute, and the Sports Neuropsychology Society.
As volunteer members of the Football Development Model Council led by USA Football, we attest to the vast significance of these recommendations. They address practice-specific training by age-band, the prohibiting of select drills, use of the two-point stance, preseason and regular season practice contact guidelines, and other vitally important topics. All eight recommendations with corresponding rationale are accessible for youth leagues and volunteer coaches to adopt and implement this season at no cost.
Viewed through a sport science prism, every sport can embrace and harness the power of science, research and a reimagined vision to put athletes’ health and wellness first, especially the youngest. The USOPC opened these doors with its American Development Model and some of its member organizations, like USA Football, advance it for greater physical and mental health of children nationwide with potential benefits through adulthood.
Skeptics shook their heads and rolled their eyes in 2010 when Dartmouth College eliminated tackling players to the ground during practice. Since making that decision — evidenced by a 70-30 (.700) record and two Ivy League championships – Dartmouth works as fervently as any team on tackling techniques, yet in smarter and safer ways. What USA Football has done with its youth tackle recommendations and its Football Development Model is no different.
As a sport scientist and a former football player who also is a current Ivy League coach, we are proud to assist USA Football in advancing the sport for kids who love to play it and gain from its benefits into adulthood.
Youth sports, including football, for too long have been played and coached “the way it always has been,” but we know better today, and therefore we need to do better. Through standards set by USA Football, youth tackle football has taken significant steps forward and will never return to where it once was.
This is 21st century football that embraces the value of the team experience, fundamental skill instruction and contact reduction to teach the sport in a smarter and safer fashion.
Beyond the handoffs, passes and smiles, kids whose leagues adopt these recommendations will be more inclined to live healthy, active lifestyles as adults. And that may be the greatest win of all.
Dr. Paul Roetert, FACSM, is the managing director of the U.S. Tennis Association’s USTA University. His credentialed career spans a variety of sports in the areas of school-based health, physical literacy, sports science, and strength and conditioning. Buddy Teevens is the head football coach at Dartmouth College of the Ivy League. He is Dartmouth’s all-time winningest coach and is recognized as a leader in football player safety for his innovative practice methods limiting player-to-player contact. Dr. Roetert and coach Teevens are volunteer members of USA Football’s Football Development Model Council. USA Football is a member of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee.