How young is too young for tackle football?

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, July 5, 2017

There are many pressing questions concerning the health of football players on all levels of the sport, but one that really strikes me is when children should be allowed to play tackle football?

Though a popular topic, the question is difficult to answer, as there are two valid arguments to take into consideration.

According to a study conducted by the Boston University School of Medicine, there is a negative association between participating in tackle football prior to age 12 and experiencing cognitive impairment later in life.

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In the study, it was discovered that children and adolescents are more vulnerable than adults to have long-term damage from concussions due to collisions on the gridiron.

However, on the other side of the argument, Time Magazine reported that doctors see some of the worst cases of head injuries from high school kids who’ve never played football and do not know the proper tackling techniques.

Children can begin playing tackle football as early as 5 years old in Pop Warner, a national youth football league. The league is set up so players compete against kids of similar ages and sizes.

Learning how to properly tackle at an early age is a smart concept for those who want to pursue football during their childhood. But those children also put themselves at a high risk of brain trauma because their brain is still developing in their adolescent years.

According to the Pop Warner website, the National Football League Players Association estimates that 60 to 70 percent of players who make it to the NFL began their careers playing Pop Warner.

So the question is, where’s the middle ground? As a former football player, that is a difficult question to answer. There have been many players who started playing in high school and made it to the NFL like New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. I believe technology needs to catch up with the fast pace of the full contact sport. That’s the only way we can protect our youth while they are playing, because there will be generations who did not learn the proper tackling skills in the summer prior to their first year of high school. Proper tackling and blocking is an art that takes at least five years to perfect.

I believe technology needs to catch up with football, but in the meantime, coaches and parents need to dial in and make it a priority to teach every player how to tackle properly so they can keep themselves safe on the field.