Youth football full contact rules

Evidence Rating  
Evidence rating: Expert Opinion

Strategies with this rating are recommended by credible, impartial experts but have limited research documenting effects; further research, often with stronger designs, is needed to confirm effects.

Health Factors  
Decision Makers
Date last updated

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 age1. Football has the highest risk of injury from player contact, especially concussions, among high school sports2, 3.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Reduced sport-related brain injury

  • Reduced sport-related concussion

What does the research say about effectiveness?

Youth football contact rules that limit the number of full contact practices or delay the age at which tackling is introduced and provide proper tackling training are a suggested strategy to reduce the risk of head and neck injuries, especially concussions, among players1, 4, 5. Available evidence suggests that limiting the number of full contact practices decreases the frequency of head impact among high school football players, especially linemen6, 7. 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 rules8. However, additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

How could this strategy impact health disparities? This strategy is rated no impact on disparities likely.
Implementation Examples

There is no national rule regarding full contact in youth football; rules vary by state. For example, Iowa, Kansas, Georgia, and Tennessee limit full contact practices to 90 minutes per week, while Ohio limits it to 60 minutes per week9. Pop Warner Football, the largest youth football program in the U.S., 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 minutes10.

USA Football’s national youth practice guidelines recommend introducing youth players (ages 6 to 14) to full contact drills progressively to ensure proper technique, moving from no contact to controlled contact, and then to full contact; additional recommendations include limiting the number of pre-season and regular season practices which include full contact drills each week11. The National Federation of State High School Associations’ Concussion Summit Task Force recommends limiting full contact to 2-3 practices per week and no more than 30 minutes per day, as well as teaching full contact fundamentals with sufficient repetition during pre-season practices12.

Implementation Resources

USA Football-Practice guidelines - USA Football. National practice guidelines.

NPHL-Concussion - The Network for Public Health Law (NPHL). Youth sports concussion laws.


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

2 Bartley 2017 - Bartley JH, Murray MF, Kraeutler MJ, et al. Epidemiology of injuries sustained as a result of intentional player contact in high school football, ice hockey, and lacrosse: 2005-2006 through 2015-2016. Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine. 2017;5(12):232596711774088.

3 Kerr 2011 - Kerr ZY, Collins CL, Fields SK, Comstock RD. Epidemiology of player-player contact injuries among U.S. high school athletes, 2005-2009. Clinical Pediatrics. 2011;50(7):594-603.

4 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, D.C.: National Academies Press; 2014.

5 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.

6 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.

7 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.

8 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.

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

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

11 USA Football-Youth guidelines - USA Football. National practice guidelines for youth tackle football.

12 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.