Football continues to be the most popular recreational activity among American youth. Although historically tackle football has dominated the American youth football scene, flag football is quickly growing in popularity. This is due to both the increased safety associated with flag football as compared to regular tackle football as well as the opportunities offered by flag football to help youth participants build their skills in ways that traditional tackle football does not allow. More and more studies are being released showing the increasing dangers associated with tackle football, even for youth players. For youth interested in playing football, flag football offers a safer alternative to the typical youth tackle leagues. It also allows youth football players to develop and hone skills they otherwise would not be able to in a traditional tackle football league, such as quick lateral movement and running, without the concerns over knee injuries or other dangers presented by low or poor tackling form by inexperienced young players.
The Health Dangers Associated with Tackle Football
Numerous reports have been released in recent years which emphasize the alarming rise in concussions among children and young adults who participate in tackle football. Nevertheless, tackle football is still the most popular sport among high school athletes, with more than 1 million participants nationwide each year, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. In addition, tackle football players suffer more concussions than high school athletes in any other sport, according to 2017 Journal of Athletic Training statistics. During a game, football players are 16 times more likely to suffer a concussion than baseball players and four times more likely to do so than male basketball players. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2.4 high school football players die per year due to traumatic head injuries. Former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez, who recently died at age 27, was found after his death to have had a severe case of brain damage. According to a New York Times report, posthumous examination of Hernandez’s brain showed such a severe form of the degenerative brain disease C.T.E. that the damage was similar to former professional football players in their 60s. It is not just professional football players who suffer from brain damage and other cognitive deficits from concussions and other injuries associated with tackle football, however. Other studies have shown that even football players who participated in tackle football prior to age 12 were at greater risk of developing memory and cognition problems later in life than the general population.
Flag Football Helps Develop Skills That Tackle Football Does Not
Aside from the injury risks related to concussions which are present in tackle football, participating in flag football also allows players to develop skills that cannot be honed as well in a traditional youth tackle football league. For example, it can particularly assist players in developing their ability to move laterally with the football without worries about being tackled below the knees and suffering a knee or other injuries caused by poor tackling form by inexperienced youth players. Playing flag football can even increase a player’s tackling ability for football at a later age, as it requires greater skill, dexterity and athleticism to grab a flag than to tackle a ball carrier. Therefore, participating in flag football at an early age can even enable youth players to develop these skills even if they go on to play tackle football in high school or beyond.