USA Football, the sport’s governing body for kids, will roll out some rule changes later this year. They’re reducing the number of players from eleven to seven and eliminating the three-point stance, with the intent of keeping kids safer.
Tom Farrey, the executive director of The Sports and Society program at the Aspen Institute, says that the rules were introduced to quell parents’ fears about allowing their children to play tackle football at a young age.
“The science is suggesting the earlier you play football, the earlier you bang your head, the worse you’re going to end up later in life,” Farrey says.
Farrey says that these rules are as much about safety as they are about the NFL maintaining a successful business model. Keeping kids enrolled in youth football has implications up through the collegiate and professional level.
“The NFL certainly perceives youth football as its pipeline – not just for players, but for people who have an affection for the game,” Farrey says. “On some level they’re right, kids who play a particular sport are three times more likely to become fans of that sport later on.”
Farrey says the governing bodies of football in the U.S. are caught in a balancing act, trying to maintain the authenticity of the game for young players while keeping their developing bodies safe.
“There’s a ritual. Parents want to see the real thing,” Farrey says. “They want to see real football but it’s a risk.”Written by Emma Whalen.