The most significant debate surrounding tackle football in America rages around the age at which kids should be allowed to strap on the pads and play. It is a very understandable topic of discussion, given the popularity of football and the risks involved in playing the game.
Those risks are factors at any age, but with your child still developing both physically and mentally, parents want to know if there is a specific age at which their child should start getting football coaching and move into playing tackle football.
Is 12 The Magic Number?
The number that seems to have been picked as the age for kids to begin playing tackle football is 12. Much of this comes from articles and journal pieces like one published in the Journal of Neurotrauma back in 2015. The journal contained a study showing that former NFL players had a higher risk of altered brain development if they started playing tackle football before age 12.
It is a compelling study that shows how developing brains are at risk when multiple hits to the head are sustained, especially over a short period. Another slightly earlier study from the same group focused on how former NFL players who played tackle football before the age of 12 also suffered from a loss of cognitive function and had increased memory loss compared to players who began to play football after that age.
The problem with this magic number of 12 is that it simply doesn’t consider the difference between football coaching in the 1980s and football coaching today. It is impossible – and honestly foolish – to compare youth football today with the youth football that Junior Seau, Kan Stabler, and Andre Waters (all former NFL players with CTE) would have played.
This doesn’t mean you should just throw your nine-year-old child into a tackle football program, and you should do your due diligence as a parent, just like you would with any other aspect of their life. If you are considering tackle football for your child, you simply need to ask yourself if they are ready.
Is My Child Ready for Tackle Football?
There are a number of considerations to make when deciding if your child is ready for tackle football. Here are some of the ones that we consider to be the most important, regardless of if they are under or over the age of 12.
- Are they physically developed enough? This is a question that needs to be answered relative to the kids that they will be playing against. Tackle football is physical, and if your child is not at the same level physically as their opponents then the chance of injury dramatically increases. Be honest with yourself and your child about this when weighing up the possibilities of tackle football.
- Have they been coached and prepared? I would argue that this is the most important aspect of the decision-making process. Your child will be far, far safer if he or she has had the football coaching to prepare them for tackle football. You wouldn’t just give your kid the keys to a car and leave them to their own devices to drive and the theory is the same here. By tackling them the proper tackle technique before they play you can seriously reduce the chances that your child will get hurt. This blog is full of tackle tips and hints, while football coaching camps like the ones provided by Tackle Smart are almost essential when your child is starting their tackle football journey.
- Are you aware of the potential danger from collision sports? We looked in a previous blog post about what to do if your child gets a concussion. These brain injuries are the real worries when deciding at what age to let your child play tackle football. A broken leg will heal fully, a damaged brain may not. To that end, it is important that you understand the dangers of collision sports like football. Do some research and make sure your child is prepared before playing tackle football for the first time.
- What is the right football league for my child? Another previous post looked at the types of football leagues out there for your child to play in. Start them off east with a more recreational league – perhaps even getting the basics of footwork and form down in a flag football league – before moving them on to the next level. Your child will be safer and have much more fun if they are in the right league for their athletic ability and personality.
- What will they gain from playing tackle football? The benefits of sports – and especially team sports – are almost endless. Playing tackle football will make your child healthier, fitter, better socially, and increase their critical thinking ability. One big area where kids will improve is in their mental health. Many studies have shown a link between playing sports and a decrease in depression, with your child able to use football to socialize, make friends, and ramp up their physical activity and all the positive feelings that brings.
The take away from this blog should be that the arbitrary age of 12 for kids playing tackle football has its problems. Instead of just looking at a number, parents and their child should make the decision together by gaining all the relevant information in this post. Above all else, when you decide your child is ready for tackle football, make sure they get some football coaching before making their first tackle or catching their first pass. Give your child the tools to succeed while being the safest they possibly can be.
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