76 : USA Football Modified Tackle Round Table w/ JR Nisivoccia, Brian Bond & Justin Papa

From left to right, Kevin Saum, JR Nisivoccia, Justin Papa, Brian Bond

From left to right, Kevin Saum, JR Nisivoccia, Justin Papa, Brian Bond

A few months back, my friends at Mind Of The Athlete posted an article on their Facebook page about a new proposal for modified tackle football by the sport's governing body, USA Football.  This is an an attempt to mimic similar sports leagues like little league baseball which has a gradual progression to the traditional sport.  I decided to organize a discussion on this new variation of American football with some of my friends and former guests of the podcast.  JR Nisivoccia (episode 3) is a Physical Therapist and serves as the USA Football Safety Coordinator for his town's recreation football program. Justin Papa is a post-rehab personal trainer and a former high school football mad-man who was never afraid to throw his body around on the field.  Brian Bond (episode 31) is a former professional football player who overcame 3 ACL injuries.  The proposed rule changes listed in the NPR article are as follows:

Big Rule Changes Could Make Youth Football Games A Whole Lot Smaller

  • A smaller playing field, which dramatically shrinks the 100-yard field to a length of 40 yards. The smaller size allows a typical field to be split in half, so that two separate games can be played on the same surface at once.
  • Fewer players on each side. In a typical game, 11 players for each team would be on the field at once; in the modified version USA Football plans to audition, that number will be reduced to seven — though it hasn't ruled out the possibility of anywhere from six to nine.
  • There will be no special teams. In other words, that means no special teams in a bid to cut down on the punishing open-field hits those plays often involve.
  • Players at the line of scrimmage cannot use a "three-point stance" — a body position that allows for great leverage and more power off the line.
  • Players must rotate positions, rather than specialize in just one.
  • Coaches must ensure players of equal size are matched up against each other.

Below is an outline of our conversation:

  • What will a smaller playing field do for the game?
    • Potentially more collisions 
    • Less room to pick up speed
    • From JR's coaching experience, most of the big hits in youth football occur at the line of scrimmage.
    • Less incentive to run?
  • Does decreasing the number of players on the field (6-9) improve safety ?
    • Rugby Seven, Sprint football comparison
    • Does more running = better fitness?
  • How important are special teams to the essence of the game?
  • Who is affected most by not allowing "three-point stance" on the line of scrimmage?"
    • We came to the conclusion that the interior defensive lineman will most affected.
    • Will this avoid helmet contact?
  • How feasible are mandated position rotations?
    • Pros and cons
    • Avoiding sport specialization
    • Will this deter bigger athletes?
  • Can coaches be trusted to ensure players of equal size will be lined up against each other?
    • How realistic is this?
    • What happens when the big kids rotate to a ball-carrying position?
  • JR's experience with the USA Football Heads Up Tackling program
    • Sees a lack of translation on to the field
    • Feels that coaches are the problem
  • Toughness Definitions

Overall, our opinion as a group was that this modified version of tackle football will most likely not improve safety, but we all respect the efforts of USA Football to create a more sustainable game.  I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic.  By discussing the issues at hand, we will make the sport and culture safer for the athletes who love to play the game as much as we did.

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