Citing safety concerns, USA Football introduces a much tamer version of the game for younger players featuring fewer players, smaller fields, and less contact.

A pilot program has already begun in a small number of leagues across the country, in which a number of rule changes were instituted: reducing the number of players on the field for each team from 11 to between six and nine; creating smaller fields; eliminating kickoffs and punts; and banning the three-point stance for those playing on the line (players would crouch instead)’

If these changes are deemed effective, they will be rolled out nationally, according to a news story in HealthDay, citing an article in The New York Times.

USA Football’s intention with these changes is to fashion youth tackle football to be more like flag football, with much less contact and hitting. The new format will be called modified tackle.

The concerns regarding the game’s safety have mounted following reports of National Football League (NFL) players developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is reportedly linked to repeated hits to the head during football play.

Research suggesting that college and professional football players who began playing tackle football as young boys have a greater risk of developing memory and thinking problems later in life than athletes who began playing after they turned 12 are also bringing safety concerns, HealthDay notes.

With these concerns are a reported nearly 20% drop in participation in tackle football by boys between the ages of 6 and 12 since 2009, which the NFL finds worrisome as it sees youth tackle football as a way to develop future fans and professional football players, according to the Times’ news article.

“The issue is participation has dropped, and there’s concern among parents about when is the right age to start playing tackle, if at all,” Mark Murphy, president of the Green Bay Packers and a board member at USA Football, tells the Times.

“So, [parents] can look at this [new format] and say they’ll be more comfortable that it is a safer alternative,” Murphy adds, according to HealthDay.

[Source(s): HealthDay, The New York Times]