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All Playing Levels

QUESTION: Why should my child play football?


The values kids learn from football set them up for success on and off the field. The game inspires character, leadership, resilience and teamwork — key life skills that transfer from the huddle to the classroom and beyond.


QUESTION: Does playing youth tackle football result in long-term adverse mental health and cognitive function effects? 


While there are studies that find that adverse mental health and cognitive function are associated with tackle football, other independent studies by researchers at accredited institutions found no increase in the risk of certain neurocognitive disease compared with athletes engaged in other varsity sports or their non-football playing classmates.  As these studies note, they address complicated scientific questions that are the subject of ongoing research.


Janssen, Pieter HH, et al., "High school football and late-life risk of neurodegenerative syndromes, 1956-1970," 92 Mayo Clinic Proceedings 1 (2017); Savica, Rodolfo, et. al, “High School Football and Risk of Neurodegeneration: A Community-Based Study,” 87 Mayo Clinic Proceedings 335 (2012); Alosco, Michael L., et. al, “Age of First Exposure to American Football and Long-Term Neuropsychiatric and Cognitive Outcomes,” 7 Translational Psychiatry 1236 (2017); Stamm, Julie M., et. al, “Age of First Exposure to Football and Later-Life Cognitive Impairment in Former NFL Players,” 2015 Neurology.


QUESTION: Is the risk of injury in high school football on the rise? 


No, the risk of injury in high school football is not on the rise.  In fact, the National Federation of High Schools’ injury data from the 2018-19 season (the most recent available) show that the injury rate has actually declined compared to last season.



QUESTION: Are there ways to better protect youth and high school athletes from risk of head and neck injuries while playing football? 


Yes. The National Federation of High Schools’ data from the most recent season show not only that there were fewer concussions when compared to the prior season, but that concussions made up a smaller portion of injuries overall.

Indeed, there have been numerous initiatives in youth football aiming to protect players from unnecessary risk.  These include:

  • An increased focus on teaching fundamental tackling techniques to fit a player’s progression in skills and development;
  • Robust certification processes for coaches, including a health and safety curriculum created by leading experts covering, among many other health and safety topics, concussion recognition, treatment, and return-to-play protocols;
  • Education on the proper size and fit of helmets and shoulder pads in an effort to reduce the risk of injury on the field; and
  • Nationwide passage of Zackery Lystedt laws that require any youth football player suspected of sustaining a concussion be removed from a game or practice, not to return until the player receives written medical clearance.

Players and their parents should make informed decisions about the values and risks of playing any contact sport.


Studies prepared by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Dr. R. Dawn Comstock, director of the National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance System and associate professor of epidemiology at Colorado Children’s Hospital, reported that while the rate of competition-related concussions have increased, the rate of concussions during practice dropped below 5.0 per 1,000 athletic exposures to 4.77 for the first time since 2010-11, when it was 3.11.



QUESTION: Does participation in football hinder academic achievement? 



Participation in sports, including in youth and high school football, builds characteristics long-associated with academic excellence, including diligence, time-management skills, focus, and self-esteem.

NCAA statistics indicate a graduation success rate of 79% for FBS and FCS college football players, an all-time high for FCS football. African-American FBS football players are graduating at a rate 11 percent higher than black male students in the general student body; for white FBS players, the graduation rate is 7 percent higher than for white male students in the general student body. 

Similarly, certain surveys and studies have shown that student athletes graduate at higher rates and have higher GPAs than non-athletes.  For instance, a 2007 survey conducted by the Minnesota State High School League found that the average GPA of high school athletes was higher than that of high school non-athletes.  The same survey found that high school athletes missed fewer school days.  Similarly, studies on Kansas high school students in the 2008-09 and 2011-12 academic years found that student athletes not only graduated at higher rates but also missed fewer school days.


Trevor Born. High Standard for GPA, in Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 14, 2007.

Lumpkin, Angela, et al., “Comparing the Academic Performance of High School Athletes and Non-Athletes in Kansas in 2008-2009,” 4 JSAS 1 (Mar. 2012); Lumpkin, Angela, “Participation in Interscholastic Sports: Do the Academic Performances of Athletes and Non-Athletes Differ?”  Univ. of Kan. (2014)


QUESTION: Is there a right age for my child to get involved in tackle football? 



Playing football helps kids develop a sense of discipline, teamwork and responsibility. But when it comes to the best age to start playing, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Some families are ready to compete right away, while others wait a few years before participating. It really depends on the child and their personal development. 

NFL FLAG offers non-contact programs for boys and girls starting at age 5 through 17 years old.

Pop Warner offers various options from flag to tackle programs based on the athletes age and weight, starting at age 5 through 14 years old. Check out some of the benefits of playing Pop Warner. 

These are signs to look out for that may indicate your child is ready to join an organized football team:

  • Physical development: Being a member on any sports team takes a certain level of coordination and gross motor skills. Coaches tailor their practice to each age group. For example, children aged 5-to 7-years-old learn the basics, while 8-to 10-year-olds focus on position-specific skills and are more emotionally mature. But in general, your child should have enough coordination to run up and down the field while holding a football.
  • Understanding teamwork: One of the biggest benefits of organized sports is that children learn what it means to be a teammate. This is especially true in football where there are so many moving parts and every player’s contribution counts. If you feel that your child is ready to understand sportsmanship and teamwork, they will gain a lot from being a part of a football team.
  • Discipline: Playing on a team requires children to come to practice, learn the rules, listen to coaches, and participate in drills and other activities. They make a commitment to work hard and show up every week. And by doing so, they gain a sense of discipline. Parents should feel comfortable that their children can respond well to a structured team environment.