USA Football has introduced eight procedures to enhance safety and health for youth players, with all of those methods endorsed by some major medical organizations.
USA Football's Athlete Health & Wellness Recommendations for youth football play have been supported by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the National Athletic Trainers' Association (NATA), and the National Youth Sports Health & Safety Institute (NYSHSI).
Using new training and practice standards, the eight recommendations include use of the two-point stance and days of rest between full-contact games and scrimmages.
USA Football, the sport's national governing body and a member of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee, put together the proposals aligned with its Football Development Model designed to develop the whole athlete based on a child's age and stage of development. A task force comprised of leaders across football, sports science, medicine and long-term athlete development were involved.
"Our goal was to let science lead us in our work to make informed decisions that can be a catalyst for better and safer play," says Michael Krueger, USA Football's senior director of education.
Adds Dr. Thayne Munce of Sanford Health and the National Youth Sports Health & Safety Institute:
"When I look at these recommendations they are logical steps, but they are not necessarily obvious for everyone, particularly when you consider that a lot of youth football organizations are volunteer led. They might just not have the opportunity to think through some of these issues thoroughly, certainly not the process USA Football went through. When people look at these, they will make sense and show we are moving in the right direction."
Through a comprehensive process that lasted more than two years, USA Football consulted with and was advised by leading experts across the landscape of youth sports.
"One of the things we're most proud of with these recommendations is we followed the science and also nuanced the balance," Krueger says. "Football is a contact sport and we are learning from the science how we can teach it more effectively while mitigating risk."
The eight recommendations:
— Guidelines for length of practice, ranging from football players at age 5 and older through pre-high school.
— Banning specific contact drills that only promote or teach contact "down the middle" of an opponent; that don't allow for players to win with speed or angles, but only through physical contact or collision; that require no game-specific reaction; and any full-contact drills that allow for greater than a 2-on-1 player-to-player interaction.
— For youth football programs playing any version of noncontact, limited contact and/or modified contact games, all players initiate movement from the two-point stance.
— For traditional full-field, full-contact programs, the two-point stance is encouraged for players on offense.
— Practices involving drills or activities considered to be full contact are not allowed on consecutive days.
— No more than one full contact game or live-action scrimmage is recommended per week. In postseason, a minimum of three days should lapse between full-contact games.
— Following an acclimatization period, during the preseason coaches should limit the amount of full contact to no more than 75 minutes per week, with no more than 30 minutes on any single day. Full contact is any contact at competitive speed, including both "thud" — when players remain on their feet and stop play after a quick whistle at the point of contact — and "live" levels of contact.
— Once regular-season competitions begin, coaches should limit the amount of full contact to no more than 60 minutes per week, with no more than 30 minutes on any one day.
"One of the things that coincides with these recommendations is there are efforts to make the game safer and better for the player," Munce says, "and these recommendations should give parents a lot of confidence that steps are being taken."
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