Some of the most respected names in football agree that playing tackle football too young puts children at an unnecessary risk for additional brain trauma. Iconic coaches and players believe that waiting to enroll your child in tackle football while their brains are still developing is the best choice.
First, hear from Biff Poggi, coach of St. Frances Academy, the 5th ranked high school football team in the nation, on why - from a football perspective - he recommends parents enroll their children in flag football under the age of 14. Then, scroll through the testimonials below to hear why football legends like Brett Favre, Drew Brees, and John Madden think waiting to play tackle football is the safest and best option for youth athletes.
"If I'm sitting down with a parent who has a 7 or 8 year old, and they would come to me and ask me, what should I do? I would tell them this, and it's very simple... You love the game of football, your son loves the game of football, the game of football is the greatest game in the world. There's an appropriate way to do that. Encourage your child to play flag football under the age of 14."
-Biff Poggi, Head Coach of the St. Frances Academy high school football team (ranked No. 5 in the nation), former Associate Head Coach, University of Michigan
“I’m a firm believer that there’s no way that a six-year-old should have a helmet on and learn a tackling drill. There’s no way. Or a seven-year-old or an eight-year-old. They’re not ready for it. Take the helmets off kids… Start at six years old, seven years old, eight years old, nine years old. They don’t need a helmet. They can play flag football. And with flag football you can get all the techniques. Why do we have to start with a six-year-old who was just potty trained a year ago and put a helmet on him and tackle?... We’ll eventually get to tackling.”
-John Madden, Pro Football Hall of Fame Coach and Broadcaster (ProFootballTalk)
“I don’t think football needs to be played until you’re in ninth grade. That’s my personal opinion with kids growing up.”
-Dana Holgorsen, Head Coach, West Virginia University (WV Gazette-Mail)
“Flag football, I think is going to grow immensely in the youth population. I don’t think there’s a need to play tackle football until at least high school. I played tackle football for the first time in seventh grade, and absolutely hated it. They played me at left tackle. I never wanted to play again.
My mom made me go out freshman year in high school to make friends with the football team. I don’t think there’s a real need for the tackling, the tackling drills, the high-impact on these young kids when their brains are getting developed at such a young age and early stage in their lives. I think the participation in tackle football will go down and the participation in flag football will go up.”
-Zach Ertz, Pro Bowl Tight End, Philadelphia Eagles (NJ.com)
“I always encourage youngsters in America to play soccer,” Harbaugh told reporters in Ann Arbor. “I think every American boy should play soccer till the eighth grade, then they should play football – American football.”
-Jim Harbaugh, Head Coach, University of Michigan (Wall Street Journal)
“I would not let my kids play tackle football right now because I don't think that's necessary and I don't think it's as fun at this level, and I just think there's too much risk associated with putting pads on right now at this age. So how can I still allow them to enjoy the game and learn about the game and develop a passion for the game and enjoy everything it has to offer? Well, flag football. I think that flag football is the perfect alternative to the parents who have concerns about concussions and the injuries around football. Because you're still able to enjoy the game of football, but in a very fun, safe and yet competitive environment. And you can still learn all the same life lessons and values from a game of flag as you would tackle.”
-Drew Brees, All-Pro QB, New Orleans Saints (CBS Sports)
“They can learn all of the fundamentals playing flag football. When they’re in high school, their bodies are physically able to hold up. You see some of these kids – 6, 7 and 8 years old – they look like bobbleheads. They can’t even hold up their heads, much less a helmet. A lot of parents don’t want to hear it. A lot of kids don’t want to hear it. But I tell parents, ‘Would you rather see your son play football or be in a wheelchair?’”
-Jim McMahon, Super Bowl XX Champion Quarterback, Chicago Bears (Virginian Pilot)
“If I had a son, I would be very, very reluctant to let him play [football] knowing what I know now - which is not a lot. At least for us, there is still so little known about [chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the brain disease linked to repeated head hits] but what we do know is, it’s not good, especially for youth. You have to believe that every time a kid is tackled … that she or he is doing detrimental things to his or her brain that may be irreversible. That is really scary. I would be very reluctant. I’m thankful that I have two beautiful daughters and don’t have a son and have to worry about that.”
-Brett Favre, Pro Football Hall of Fame QB (FOX Business)
“I’m not entirely sure that tackling in third grade makes you a better junior in high school. You can play flag football.”
-Tony Romo, Pro Bowl QB, Dallas Cowboys (CBS)
"To me, when you learn the fundamentals of football, football becomes a safer game. Too many times I think the game of football is played too early in terms of full contact hitting. I’ve heard of second and third graders playing full contact football, that’s too early.”
-Ben Roethlisberger, Pro Bowl QB, Pittsburgh Steelers (Post-Gazette)
"I beg of you, all parents to please don't let your children play football until high school. I made the mistake starting tackle football at 9 years old. Now, CTE has taken my life away. Youth tackle football is all risk with no reward."
-Nick Buoniconti, Pro Football Hall of Fame Linebacker, 2x Super Bowl Champion (CNN)
"It's one of the ways to learn the fundamentals and technique of playing contact football and doing everything right without the contact. People talk about poor tackling being an issue in contact football. Everyone wants to fix the tackling. Well, tackling in contact football involves hitting each other and hitting your head on the ground, which means more trauma to the brain. But in flag football, obviously you don't have that. But you teach kids to break down, keep your head up, be on balance. Try to get them to pull a flag from someone's hip, it's something that is going to take being in full control of your body, and knowing what your body is doing and telling it what to do, instead of just being the bigger kid who can fly around and blow somebody up because you're bigger and faster than they are."
-Jordy Nelson, Pro Bowl WR, Green Bay Packers (ABC News)
Ditka: “If you had an 8-year-old kid now, would you tell him you want him to play football?”
Bryant Gumbel: “I wouldn't. Would you?”
Ditka: “Nope. That's sad. I wouldn't. And my whole life was football. I think the risk is worse than the reward. I really do.”
-Mike Ditka, Pro Football Hall of Fame Tight End, Super Bowl XX Champion Coach (Chicago Tribune)
"I did not play tackle football until high school, and I will not allow my grandson to play until 14, as I believe it is not an appropriate sport for young children."
-Harry Carson, Pro Football Hall of Fame Linebacker, Super Bowl XXI Champion (CLF)
“I pulled my youngest child out of tackle football. He learned the game playing flag football. It’s a great avenue to be able to learn and fall in love with the game, and decide whether you want to play it long-term.”
“Learn the game away from the contact. How long are these kids going to play? Not everyone is committed. Not everyone wants to learn the game. You subject yourself and other people to hits, to contact, that isn’t needed. If you fall in love with the game, as you get older, you can be around people who are committed to it. If a kid’s not ready to play, he shouldn’t be out there playing.”
“I didn’t play tackle football until I was in seventh grade. I think you can have a great passion and develop great skills if you don’t start playing tackle football as soon as you’re out of the womb."
-Kurt Warner, Pro Football Hall of Fame Quarterback, Super Bowl XXXIV Champion (Megyn Kelly TODAY)
“I cringe when I watch children play football. I’ve got friends with sons who play. Destroying those young brains. It’s tough to watch.”
-Eugene Monroe, Retired NFL Offensive Tackle (Twitter)
"I think football is a tough, competitive sport to begin with and you're taking young people and the brain is not fully developed between that age group (of 8 and 12). I think you're running a severe risk."
-Leonard Marshall, 2x Super Bowl Champion Defensive End, New York Giants (ABC News)
“I think this issue often gets conflated solely as an NFL problem. With the science that’s available right now, the fact that we are knowingly subjecting 5-year-olds to a brain disease will baffle anthropologists for centuries to come…
…For all the talk about ending the game and who’s anti-football and all that, the silver lining is if Jim Harbaugh is okay with it, I don’t know anybody who loves football more. So I think we can afford to wait until high school, develop more skills athletically.”
-Chris Borland, Former NFL Linebacker, San Francisco 49ers (The Ringer)
"I think you can develop your child's skills without football. If you love football and you want him to play football, you can develop their skills without putting on a helmet and shoulder pads. You can play flag football."
-DeAndre Levy, Former NFL Linebacker, Detroit Lions (CSPAN)
"At some point those of us who have had success in this game must speak up to protect both football players and the future of the game, and supporting Flag Football Under 14 is our best way to do that."
-Phil Villapiano, 4x Pro Bowl Linebacker, Oakland Raiders (CLF)
"I have a 15 year old son and on and off he's played tackle football and flag football and had I known what might happen to him. I'm not a doctor but it can't be good for some 12 year old kid to get whacked in the head 200 times a season."
-Ed Marinaro, Former Running Back, NFL (ABC News)
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