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USA Football Breaks Huddle with Rookie Tackle Program: What Planners Should Know

28 Jun, 2017

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

With participation sagging and fears of concussions and long-term injury never far from parents’ minds, youth football has been looking for a way to reshape its image.

It’s hoping USA Football’s Rookie Tackle program is the answer. If it is, planners will need to be aware of changes to the game – at least at the youth level.

This month, the NGB unveiled the program, which will start in 11 cities coast-to-coast. According to an article published in USA TODAY, Rookie Tackle features smaller fields, fewer players, no special teams and no three-point stances:

The Rookie Tackle program is intended to serve as a bridge between flag football and 11-man tackle football for kids to help them learn the game and develop their skills, according to USA Football chief executive officer Scott Hallenbeck.

“Rookie Tackle is not going to replace 11-man football,” Hallenbeck told USA TODAY Sports. “That is not our position. This is additive and necessary for the ongoing advancement and growth of football.”

The 11 leagues reflect a geographic diversity and scope and span, from the Tualatin Valley Youth Football League in Oregon City, Oregon, to Georgia Girls Tackle Football in Smyrna, Georgia, to the Suffolk County PAL Football League in Yaphank, New York. Ten of them are youth leagues and had a relationship with USA Football through the Heads Up Football program. The 11th is the Philadelphia school district and will offer Rookie Tackle for sixth- to eighth-graders to help offset a lack of resources with equipment and field space.

The changes in the game, detailed below, require awareness on the part of planners – and even some changes in their job as well:

The use of smaller teams (leagues can choose to play six, seven or eight players on the field) as well as a smaller roster of players overall will allow for greater coach-to-player interaction. In addition, players will rotate positions, allowing them to learn multiple positions and skills on offense and defense.

Planners should know: Fewer players mean parents will be delighted to see their kids playing more often. But there is an equal and opposite reaction: you will need to set guidelines concerning how close they can get to the field with phones, cameras, iPads and more.

 In addition, there will be no special teams; this is expected to move the game along and, according to Nick Inzerello, USA Football’s senior director of partnerships and education, will allow for more snaps on offense and defense. The three-point stance has been eliminated in favor of two-point, except for the center. The center will still snap the ball, but he cannot be covered by a defensive player and cannot be hit.

Planners will need to know: Parents and family members should be educated that this is, in fact, a different game from the one they grew up playing and/or watching. Getting the word out in advance (and posting signage if necessary) will help in this regard.

The use of smaller fields (40 yards x 35 yards) means two programs can be taking place on the field at a time—something that will come in handy where programs are held in areas where playing space is at a premium.

Take-away for planners: Sports events will use fewer fields, but with more than one game going on, there may be more spectator action, so be prepared with seating, parking, concessions and more.

According to USA Football, the program follows the American Development Model (ADM), created by the United States Olympic Committee and first introduced by USA Hockey; it is intended to serve as a framework for long-term athlete development. According to the website, USA Football will use a similar blueprint to develop and pilot a new pathway for youth players and coaches. The ADM joins heads up football in USA Football’s ongoing commitment to advancing the sport for millions of young athletes across our nation.

USA football’s ultimate goal is to establish a game pathway for youth football from Flag to Rookie Tackle to 11-player Tackle. The organization likens Rookie Tackle’s place in the program to that of baseball, which begins with tee-ball, and gradually immerses children in all aspects of the sport. It is also hoped it will deliver a system for player and coach development, create an environment that focuses on player fundamentals and enhance player enjoyment with rule modifications that increase participation.

As the new program continues its rollout, count on schools, camps and other programs to also begin phasing it in.

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