The growing number of head and brain injuries in youth football has prompted the country’s largest youth football organization to change its rules regarding the number of full-speed collisions that can occur during practice. Pop Warner Little Scholars enrolls approximately 280,000 children ranging in age from 5 to 15 in its nationwide football leagues.
Young children are particularly vulnerable to suffering traumatic brain injuries. About 3,000 children die from brain injuries every year and another 400,000 are brought to the hospital due to brain and head injuries annually.
ESPN radio host Colin Cowherd applauded the decision of Pop Warner to limit tackling during practice, calling it essential to the survival of football as an American athletic institution. Pop Warner’s move to limit tackling during football practice comes at a time when many parents are keeping their sons from participating in football due to concerns regarding potential brain injuries.
“This isn’t a bad thing, this is a great thing,” Cowherd said. “It ensures that the sport we love remains viable. If you don’t make football safer now, in 15 years, the NFL and major college football will be less talented and less athletic because moms will keep their kids on the sidelines and out of football.”
The New York Times reports that Pop Warner officials decided to change their guidelines for tackling during practice because of a study showing that football players as young as 7can suffer from collisions as severe as college-level players. Brain trauma in young football players is even more problematic because their brains are still developing.
The new Pop Warner rules provide for no tackling during two-thirds of each practice. Pop Warner has also banned drills that involve tackling that begins with players more than 3 yards apart, head-to-head contact, or full-speed, head-on blocking.
Cowherd characterized the new Pop Warner practice rules as a bottom-up cultural shift that will help minimize the number of traumatic brain injuries in football. More than two-thirds of current NFL players participated in Pop Warner leagues as children.