For many families, it's a rite of passage for their child to play football. Football is America's game after all and it's become a bonding experience for parents to pass their love of the game — both watching and playing — on to their kids.
A new study is suggesting that while kids can still play football growing up, they shouldn't be playing tackle football until they reach the age of 14. A report released by Aspen Institute's Sports and Society Program titled 'What If Flag Becomes The Standard Way Of Playing Football Until High School?' recommends that flag football become the standard way to play until kids reach high school.
The study, co-authored by Tom Farrey, Executive Director, and Jon Solomon, Editorial Directorof the Aspen program, argues that flag football is basically the same as tackle football with the only aspect of the game missing being hitting. They point out that participation in the sport, both at the school and community level has been dropping, and point to the 'growing concerns over injuries' as a possible reason for the decrease in enrollment. Injuries to the brain have been the most concerning to parents and players alike with children being allowed to play tackle as soon as they begin playing.
With flag football, instead of tackling your opponent you simply grab their detachable flag that is hanging from their waist to stop the play. Kids are still learning to play the game and are using strategy, speed and team work to succeed, they just aren't physically running in to each other and tackling each other.
The report points to former NFL'ers such as Brett Favre who is speaking out against playing tackle before high school calling it "unsafe for kids." Many have raised the concern about starting tackle football at such a young age after seeing many football stars diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which can occur in those who experience repeated blows to the head.
In the report they refer to various studies that suggest "the more blows taken over time, the higher the risk of developing the disease" and that "children may be particularly vulnerable to brain injury in collision sports like football."
As they stated in their report, children's brains are "physically immature" and still developing. Not to mention the fact that their heads are large and their necks are still quite small and not very strong. They often aren't physically able to support themselves when an impact happens.
"In 2013, researchers at Virginia Tech University and Wake Forest University found that 7- and 8-year-old youth football players received an average of 80 hits to the head per season, while boys ages 9 to 12 received 240 hits," the report stated. "Some of the impacts were measured at 80g of force or greater, equivalent to a serious car crash."
Football greats such as Tom Brady, Jerry Rice, Jim Brown, Walter Payton, Anthony Munoz, Warren Sapp, Mike Haynes, Michael Strahan, and Lawrence Taylor only began to play tackle football once they entered high school, Forbes points out. Not only will making flag football the norm make the sport safer for all kids, but it could lead to increased participation and more fun for everyone as well.