The learning curve in tackle football can be quite steep.
The rules can seem complex, the playbook can be dizzying and finding the right position can be quite a challenge. While there's little difference in responsibilities between, say, a first baseman and a third baseman in youth baseball, the difference in responsibilities between a quarterback and a left tackle couldn't be more significant—not to mention that there are 22 players on the field at any given time —way more than any of the other three major sports. It's a lot to keep track of.
USA Football is looking to address many of these issues with the introduction of "Rookie Tackle," which the organization characterizes as "a bridge between flag football and 11-player tackle" that is "designed to introduce young athletes to tackle football."
An 11-league "pilot season" will take place this fall, the goal being to establish Rookie Tackle as a "long-term development pathway in the sport." Think of how youth baseball players evolve from tee-ball to coach pitch to player pitch. That middle transitional phase is missing in youth football right now. The hope is that Rookie Tackle can fill the gap.
So, how exactly will the sport be different?
Each team will have between 6 and 8 players on the field at a time. The playing field will be 40 yards by 35 yards, allowing two games to be played simultaneously on the same regulation-sized field.
The players will learn multiple positions and skills. One player won't always play wide receiver, one player won't always play center, etc. Players on both offense and defense will begin every play in a two-point stance. There will be no special teams plays, the thought being that more plays from scrimmage encourages greater skill development.
Eleven leagues around the country (each one in a different state) will field Rookie Tackle teams during this fall's pilot program. According to USA Football, a key goal of the pilot is "to learn how players, parents, coaches and youth league commissioners embrace its concept and how it may be improved for a wider spectrum of youth sports programs in future seasons." Also, players' physical activity will be tracked to gauge the fitness benefits of this new brand of football.
"The game of football has evolved tremendously over the last several years. We must continue to find ways to grow and evolve the game, and I believe Rookie Tackle does that. Rookie Tackle is a common-sense approach to introduce tackle football to kids. We applaud USA Football for taking this very valuable step towards improving the game at the youth level. Pop Warner is proud to have one of our leagues participate in this pilot season," Jon Butler, Executive Director of Pop Warner, said in a press release.
You can read more about Rookie Tackle—including a full list of the 11 leagues that will be participating—over at USAFootball.com.
Photo Credit: USA Football