Youth football full 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 (AAP-Football 2015). Football has the highest risk of injury from player contact, especially concussions, among high school sports (Bartley 2017, Kerr ZY, Collins CL, Fields SK, Comstock RD. Epidemiology of player-player contact injuries among US high school athletes, 2005-2009. Clinical Pediatrics. 2011;50(7):594-603.
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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 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 players (AAP-Football 2015, IOM-CSCY 2014, Harmon 2013). 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
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 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 (Pop Warner-Rule).
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 week (USA Football-Youth guidelines). 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 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.
USA Football-Youth guidelines - USA Football. National practice guidelines for youth tackle football.
Date Last Updated
- Scientifically Supported: Strategies with this rating are most likely to make a difference. These strategies have been tested in many robust studies with consistently positive results.
- Some Evidence: Strategies with this rating are likely to work, but further research is needed to confirm effects. These strategies have been tested more than once and results trend positive overall.
- 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.
- Insufficient Evidence: Strategies with this rating have limited research documenting effects. These strategies need further research, often with stronger designs, to confirm effects.
- Mixed Evidence: Strategies with this rating have been tested more than once and results are inconsistent or trend negative; further research is needed to confirm effects.
- Evidence of Ineffectiveness: Strategies with this rating are not good investments. These strategies have been tested in many robust studies with consistently negative and sometimes harmful results.