Youth football contact rules

Youth football contact rules restrict full contact between players including tackling and blocking. Such rules may limit the number of days or hours of full contact practices per week, limit the number of head hits per player and per practice or game, expand non-contact football programs, or delay tackling until a certain age (). Football has the highest risk of injury from player contact, especially concussions, among high school sports (Bartley 2017, ). 

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Reduced sport-related brain injury

  • Reduced sport-related concussion

Evidence of Effectiveness

Youth football contact rules that limit the number of contact practices or delay the age at which tackling is introduced and provide proper tackling instruction are a suggested strategy to reduce the risk of head and neck injuries, especially concussion, among players (, IOM-CSCY 2014, ). Available evidence suggests that limiting the number of full contact practices decreases the frequency of head impact among high school football players, especially linemen (Broglio 2013, Broglio 2016). A study of elementary school football players suggests that players on teams with contact rules experience fewer and less severe head impacts during practice than players on teams without such rules (Cobb 2013). However, additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

Impact on Disparities

No impact on disparities likely

Implementation Examples

There is no national rule on youth football contact; rules vary by state. For example, Iowa, Kansas, Georgia, and Tennessee limit full contact practice to 90 minutes per week and Ohio limits it to 60 minutes per week (NFHS-Contact limit 2015). Pop Warner Football, the largest youth football program in the US, bans full speed head-on blocking or tackling drills between players lined up more than 3 yards apart during practice and limits full contact to one third of total weekly practice time or 40 minutes maximum (Pop Warner-Rule). The National Federation of State High School Associations’ Concussion Summit Task Force recommends limiting full contact to 2-3 practices per week, full contact time to no more than 30 minutes per day, and teaching full contact fundamentals with sufficient repetition during pre-season practices (NFHS-Concussion 2014). 

Citations - Evidence

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Harmon 2013* - Harmon KG, Drezner JA, Gammons M, et al. American Medical Society for Sports Medicine position statement: Concussion in sport. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2013;47(1):15-26.

AAP-Football 2015* - American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Council on sports medicine and fitness. Tackling in youth football. Pediatrics. 2015;136(5):e1419-e1430.

IOM-CSCY 2014 - Institute of Medicine (IOM) Committee on sports-related concussions in youth (CSCY). Sports-related concussions in youth: Improving the science, changing the culture. Chapter 6. Protection and prevention strategies. Washington DC: National Academies Press; 2014.

Broglio 2013 - Broglio SP, Martini D, Kasper L, Eckner JT, Kutcher JS. Estimation of head impact exposure in high school football: Implications for regulating contact practices. The American Journal of Sports Medicine. 2013;41(12):2877-2884.

Broglio 2016 - Broglio SP, Williams RM, O’Connor KL, Goldstick J. Football players’ head-impact exposure after limiting of full-contact practices. Journal of Athletic Training. 2016;51(7):511-518.

Cobb 2013 - Cobb BR, Urban JE, Davenport EM, et al. Head impact exposure in youth football: Elementary school ages 9-12 years and the effect of practice structure. Annals of Biomedical Engineering. 2013;41(12):2463-2473.

Citations - Implementation Examples

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NFHS-Contact limit 2015 - National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). States adopt plans to limit contact in football. September 15, 2015.

Pop Warner-Rule - Pop Warner Little Scholars (Pop Warner). Limited contact in practice rule.

NFHS-Concussion 2014 - National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Concussion summit task force. Recommendations on guidelines for minimizing head impact exposure and concussion risk in football. July 2014.

Date Last Updated

May 15, 2018