Empowering Coaches Step-By-Step

Flag Football Safety- Safer than Tackle?










There are a number of people that would like to see youth tackle football go away and one of the strategies is to substitute flag football for tackle. The reasoning is that with all the pads and the tackling, flag football would have to be safer right? Well not according to a recent study. Flag football safety is what is being sold to many as a substitute for tackle, maybe it’s not the answer.

A new University of Iowa study of 3,800 youth football players in Iowa found that flag football is actually more dangerous than tackle football. Dr Andrew Peterson from the University of Iowa Sports Medicine Program wanted to see if not allowing tackling would reduce the rate of injury in youth football players. Injury was defined as anything that kept a player from a practice of game. They studied the rate of injury for the tackle group and compared it to a group of kids playing flag in the same league in the same age groups. The researchers found that the rate of injury was low in both groups, but the rates of injury were higher in the flag group.

Flag Football Safety Study Conclusion

 The University of Iowa Conclusion and Study: “Injury is more likely to occur in youth flag football than in youth tackle football. Severe injuries and concussions were not significantly different between leagues. Concussion was more likely to occur during games than during practice. Players in the sixth or seventh grade were more likely to suffer a concussion than were younger players.


 “A total of 46,416 exposures and 128 injuries were reported. The mean age at injury was 10.64 years. The hazard ratio for tackle football (compared with flag football) was 0.45 (95% CI, 0.25-0.80; P = .0065). The rate of severe injuries per exposure for tackle football was 1.1 (95% CI, 0.33-3.4; P = .93) times that of the flag league. The rate for concussions in tackle football per exposure was 0.51 (95% CI, 0.16-1.7; P = .27) times that of the flag league.


We know that facts rarely get in the way of how policy or opinions often times made here in the USA, but these facts fly in the face of the argument for flag football as a replacement for tackle. If you’ve ever coached or watched a competitive flag or even 7 on 7 game you know what I’m talking about. The speed of the game doesn’t change and there are some chances just like in soccer where you have players going after the ball and an unprotected head of one player makes contact with the body or even head of another player.  While the injury rate was low, it still wasn’t lower than those for the tackle group.

There is a small but dedicated group of people here that would love to see the uniquely American and uniquely masculine game of tackle football to no longer be part of our American culture. They want us to move on and away from what has been a traditional pastime and even way of life for many kids and American families. While the game has legitimate injury risks for any player, every family needs to decide for themselves if their children should play or not. There are risks when you ride a bike, skateboard, ski, walk to school etc. There are also long term development risks when kids aren’t involved with other children in team environments, or don’t understand the meaning of commitment or hardwork, not to mention the health risks of being sedentary. We all want our kids to be safe, but for some to promote flag football safety as a panacea may not be the answer.

Like anything, it’s always a tradeoff. As most of us youth football coaches know, the rate of injury is almost always lower in the lower age groups. As the kids age up and get bigger and faster, the injury rates creep up. As all the studies show, the older the players, the higher the injury rates. Wouldn’t it make sense to teach kids to play tackle football at a young age where they can learn the game with little threat of injury versus waiting until the injury rate threat is higher? Wouldn’t that be safer, sending a player up to play High School football who knows how to play safely rather than trying to teach him as a 9th grader or even 7th or 8th?

For More great articles on youth football, the game, the direction of the sport and coaching tips, go here: //www.winningyouthfootball.com 


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