Football continues to surge in popularity at the professional and college level. At the youth level, however, tackle football has seen a decrease in popularity as parents have become more and more worried about injuries to their children, especially concussion due to them not getting the right football coaching on their tackle technique.
According to Statista, in 2006 there were 8.4 million people over the age of six playing tackle football. That number had dropped to just 5.16 million by 2018. As the number of professional, adult amateur, and college programs has stayed roughly the same during that period, the drop off must be at the youth level.
This is a shame. Skills learned playing football, values like worth ethic, teamwork, and communication, are skills that can be transferred into all aspects of life as a child grows up. What parents sometimes forget is that while football certainly can be a violent game, it doesn’t have to be. Here are a few pointers on finding the right football league for your child that will help them learn skills while staying safe.
Types of Football
The first thing to remember is that there is more than one type of football. While the number of players involved in tackle football has dropped, the number of flag football players in the USA has steadily grown over the last five years. Former tackle football players are turning to flag football in their droves.
This is the type of football that you can see every Saturday or Sunday – and basically any day of the week at this point – on TV. It is fast, it is fun, and by the very nature of the game, it can be violent.
Tackle football is played by children as young as five in some places, but given that the brain is not fully formed at this stage, hits to the head are dangerous. While the force of the tackles will not be as strong as the players are lighter, children also haven’t developed the neck and core muscles to stabilize themselves in contact.
The Concussion Legacy Foundation suggests holding children out of tackle football until they are 14 years old, a cry repeated by the Aspen Institute who surmise from their research that flag football should be the go to for kids until that same age.
Flag football is a great option for players of all ages and abilities. Unlike tackle football where a play is stopped when a player is tackled to the ground, a play in flag football is over when one of the flags worn on a belt around a player’s waist is pulled off. This limits contact to practically nothing outside of a few unfortunate collisions, especially as blocking is also banned in this version of the game.
One of the great things about flag football is how it allows a player to develop core skills of the game without taking relentless contact in the process. Flag football prioritizes speed and footwork over strength and raw power.
This means smaller and quicker players often have the advantage, but a player who will be a future offensive lineman can learn so much from flag as they are forced to adopt a set of skills that they traditionally would ignore.
As a parent it is important to know what you and your child are looking to get out of the football league that they will be joining. Perhaps they want to join a team in a league with their friends or maybe you are looking to put them in an activity where they can gain life skills in a fun environment. Either way, knowing the goals that you are both looking for during the initial stages of their football journey is vitally important to having a positive experience that lasts.
Choosing the right league isn’t easy. Some leagues are hyper competitive even from an early age. These leagues will have teams with a roster of coaches almost as deep as their pool of players. Often these coaches will have played at least at the collegiate level. Joining a league like this would be very rewarding for a competitive, athletic child, but would be overwhelming for one just looking to have fun.
The beauty of youth sports is that there are leagues for that type of child too. The YMCA leagues tend to be a good place to start at a low end competitive level. The football coaching likely won’t be to the same standard, but the level of community involvement and family feel gives this a completely different vibe that some kids will love.
Take these examples of football leagues within commuter distance of North Dallas to see the range of options on offer as you look for a suitable league for your child.
- Frisco Football League – Tackle and Flag – Average Competitive Level
- Allen Sports Association – Tackle and Flag – Average to High Competitive Level
- Gridiron Football – Flag Only (7v7 & 9v9) –Competitive Nationwide League
- YMCA – – Tackle and Flag – Laidback and Not Too Competitive
- 19 – Flag Only – All About Fun For Beginners
Five leagues and five very different approaches to how football is played and football coaching. As popular as football is, most communities will offer different versions of the game. In many youth programs, combines are held to allocate a player to a team, especially at the competitive end, so your child will really get a feel of where they stack up compared to others around them.
As a parent your major concern will be safety. After that it is about putting your child in a position to have fun. Do some research on leagues in your area, be honest about the skill level of your child, and get them playing a sport that builds character and leadership like none other out there.
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