The air is getting a little cooler and crisper each day. As much as we love summer, we can’t help but get excited for the change of the seasons. And — let’s be honest — much of that excitement is because football season starts back up! And it’s not just the NFL — back to school means back to youth football as well.
But football is only fun if it’s being played smart and safe. NFL Network’s Heads Up program is working to educate youth on how to play the game safely — specifically, how to protect themselves from concussions. The program includes education for players and certification for coaches. But football great John Madden doesn’t think it’s enough.
In a recent panel discussion on the Heads Up program and certifying coaches, Madden expressed his concerns about teaching children to tackle at a young age. From the Washington Post:
“I’m a firm believer that there’s no way that a 6-year-old should have a helmet on and learn a tackling drill,” Madden said. “There’s no way. Or a 7-year-old or an 8-year-old. They’re not ready for it. Take the helmets off kids.
“Start at 6 years old, 7 years old, 8 years old, 9 years old. They don’t need helmets — they can play flag football. And with flag football you can get all the techniques. Why do we have to start with a 6-year-old who was just potty trained a year ago and put a helmet on him and tackle? I have no idea. We’ll eventually get to tackling.”
This is not the first step the legendary football coach has made toward making football safer for youth. In 2012, his popular Madden video game began showing concussions — and also sidelining any player who received a concussion for the remainder of the video game. Why? He explained to the New York Times:
“Concussions are such a big thing, it has to be a big thing in the video game,” Madden said in a telephone interview. “It starts young kids — they start in video games. I think the osmosis is if you get a concussion, that’s a serious thing and you shouldn’t play. Or leading with the head that you want to eliminate. We want that message to be strong.”
Preventing concussions is important for all age groups, but especially for children. Even a minor head injury, especially at an early age, can cause serious health problems. We are encouraged to see big names in football leading the charge on the culture change needed to protect not only our professional players, but also our youth.