The way football teams practice is changing.
At the NFL, college and high school levels, long gone are the days of lengthy scrimmaging and heavy contact drills. Most youth programs have followed suit.
Through its National Practice Guidelines for Youth Tackle Football, USA Football is further redefining what constitutes a proper youth football practice by setting a daily full-contact limit of 30 minutes and identifying what full contact is.
Specifically, full contact includes any drill conducted in gamelike, competitive conditions in which there is no predetermined winner – defined as “Thud” or “Live” in USA Football’s Levels of Contact.
“Though there is no takedown to the ground in Thud, initial contact, particularly with linemen, is just as physical with Thud as it is with Live Action,” USA Football Senior Director of Football Development Nick Inzerello said.
USA Football’s youth practice guidelines offer leagues a clear, medically endorsed process to implement heat acclimatization procedures and clear definitions of contact and time limits on player-to-player contact to construct a proper practice plan. The guidelines were designed with input from USA Football’s Medical Advisory Committee and Football Advisory Committee and are endorsed by the American College of Sports Medicine, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association and the American Medical Society of Sports Medicine. They provide youth football organizations with recommendations to establish consistent methods designed to limit the chance for injury during structured practice sessions.
“We believe the practice guidelines are a great compliment to Heads Up Football to advance player safety on the practice field,” Inzerello said. “USA Football has provided coaches and commissioners with another tool to create a better, safer game for youngsters.”
Every USA Football coach membership includes access to a Practice Planner tool that measures the amount of full contact within a practice. As coaches input drills and select the intensity level for each drill, a meter counts the time – turning red and issuing a warning if the count surpasses the recommended limit of 30 minutes.
USA Football’s Levels of Contact focus on varying intensity levels throughout practices to build player confidence, ensure the safest possible environment and prevent both physical and mental exhaustion. Five intensity levels are used to introduce players to practice drills, which position them to master the fundamentals and increase skill development.
- Air. Players run a drill unopposed without contact.
- Bags. Drill is run against a bag or other soft-contact surface.
- Control. Drill is run at an assigned speed until the moment of contact. One player is designated by the coach ahead of time as the pre-determined winner. Contact remains above the waist and players stay on their feet.
- Thud. Drill is run at competitive speed through the moment of contact with no predetermined winner. Contact remains above the waist, players stay on their feet and a quick whistle ends the drill.
- Live Action. Drill is run in gamelike conditions and is the only time that players are taken to the ground.
“The safety of every young athlete is a priority for the American College of Sports Medicine,” ACSM President Dr. Carol Ewing Garbersaid. “USA Football’s practice guidelines for youth tackle football, created in collaboration with medical leaders, marks a watershed moment for youth sports. Identifying guidelines for heat acclimatization and defining levels of contact with time limits are critical. Not only are young athletes safer by learning the fundamentals in a smarter way, but monitoring levels of contact and heat acclimatization also advances their well-being. This is leadership one would expect from a national governing body of sport, and ACSM endorses these guidelines.”