Menu
Cart 0

John Madden denounced youth tackle football for injuries. He was wrong.

Posted by John Reed on

My Best Man sent me an article that said Madden changed the way TV announcers cover football. True. He introduced game film study to announcing.
.
The article also said he adamantly opposed youth tackle football recommending flag instead. In that, he did not know what the hell he was talking about.
.
You may think that being one of the greatest NFL head coaches means you are also a great college, high school and youth coach. Nope. I wrote the only book about coaching freshman and JV high school football. The assumption before my book was that freshman and JV coaches could get all they needed out of books written by and for varsity coaches. Bull!
.
My frosh/JV book has a substantial discussion of the differences between varsity and frosh/JV. One example: varsity players pull muscles and get cramps. Freshman and JV players do not. Too young. I think they also get tired in the fourth quarter and frosh/JV are less likely to get tired assuming a summer conditioning program. If no summer program, the frosh/JV guys play themselves into shape by about the fourth game.
.
The notion that youth tackle is too dangerous comes from the logic that tackle football hurts pro and college players, therefore it hurts high school and youth players more. Bull***!
.
The typical high school tackle football veteran cannot point to any permanent injury on his body. And I have not heard that autopsies of people whose football career ended at high school show autopsy brain damage.
.
I do not recall ever seeing a youth tackle football player getting a concussion. I saw one at the JV level. The truth is youth and frosh/JV players are harder to hurt.
.
They do not hit as hard as the older players. They are lighter than the older players and have to make weight before each game. Most college and higher linemen and TEs and FBs never played youth football because they were too heavy. Also true of many QBs and wide receivers.
.
Youth tackle football and wrestling are the only sports that have maximum weight limits that you must pass before each competition. Youth football also has a pre-season minimum weight that you have to make. In youth baseball, soccer, flag, or basketball, your average or small size child may be totaled by some huge future NFL TE. Not in youth tackle football.
.
Youth tackle football is the only youth sport I saw that had paid professional referees whose main job was the safety of the players. The refs who ref high-school games on Thursday (frosh) and Friday nights are the exact same guys who ref youth games all day Saturday—they get the same pay for each game. I used to coach both at the same time and talked to them both game days.
.
Most other youth sports are officiated by low-paid teenagers or no-paid volunteer fathers who are lousy to say the least. Teenage boys especially do not enforce safety rules because they are insecure about their manhood.
.
Youth and frosh/JV players are also more rubbery if you’ll pardon my technical medical terminology. I saw an occasional bone fracture, but they were back in the game amazingly fast after such fractures (if they consulted a sports medicine doctor as was common in my affluent teams).
.
Ambulances came to our youth football practices on occasion, but more often for the cheerleaders than the players. They had season-end competitions and tended to get into more spectacular and more dangerous stunts to win there.
.
Regarding flag football being being better:
A. Flag football is FAR more dangerous than tackle football.
B. Flag football is near useless as preparation for playing tackle football.
.
When I was a cadet at West Point, West Point had just adopted touch football as a spring intramural sport. It required less field space than baseball or softball and the student body had been increased to 4,400 from 2,500 and intramural athletics were required for all non-intercollegiate athletes. The Naval Academy at Annapolis had already adopted touch football so Army consulted with them. 
.
They said no sooner had they added touch football to the long list of intramurals, than it became the intramural sport with the highest rate of injuries. What other intramurals sports did it beat out for that title? Tackle football, boxing, wrestling, lacrosse, soccer, skiing, basketball, softball, water polo.
.
Where I live and coached youth and high school football, the high school teams participate in a summer touch league which is what coaches call a 7-on-7 drill. No line; just QB, center, receivers, linebackers and defensive backs. No blocking. No tackling. 
.
In one such game, we had two simultaneous skull fractures. How? Two guys tried to catch the same pass. Each guy’s head hit the other guys head. After that, De La Salle High School, the best in history for many years, had their touch team wear helmets. Are skull fractures common in football? No. They are unheard of. Tackle football players wear state-of-the-art helmets.
.
The safety problem in touch or flag football is that the ban on tackling eliminates some injuries, but it is still a “contact” sport. That means that people slam into each other accidentally often. Football, lacrosse, boxing, wrestling are “collision” sports. Tackle football players wear helmets, hip pads, tailbone pads, and thigh pads as well as optional knee braces, forearm pads, horse collars, padded gloves, flak jackets, rib pads. Touch and flag players have absolutely zero padding anywhere.
.
Last I checked there were only two books on flag football, even though there are far more flag players than tackle players on planet Earth. Why would that be? Because every damned flag football league makes up its own rules so it is hard to write a book on a subject that is defined so differently by so many would-be book buyers. I wrote one of those two books.
.
Regarding the usefulness of playing flag as preparation for tackle football, it’s all but useless. In youth baseball, which I wrote two books about, we can tell players who attended a summer camp run by a former major leaguer. They know certain techniques and mechanics. Not night and day better, but discernible.
.
I coached freshman football at two different high school for four years. We could spot the youth-tackle veterans from about 150 yards away. My son Dan’s freshman high school coaches automatically made the few tackle veterans they got—about four or five a year—calisthenics leaders and tentative team leaders and demonstrators of various skills and hitting ferocity.
.
Kids who played youth soccer and middle school flag football, were essentially inept rookies. It took until the beginning of junior year for the advantage of the youth tackle veterans to disappear compared to those kids who played soccer and/r flag before high school.
.
The main problem was hitting. It is an acquired taste and skill that requires experience and training. Also, the rules of football are many and counterintuitive and strictly enforced. Youth veterans well know them, having played the sport in front of high school referees for up to six years. Soccer and flag veterans, on the other hand do false starts, illegal blocks, late hits, on every play until you train it out of them. 
.
7-on-7 is an actual varsity and higher drill for passers, receivers, and pass defenders. So does flag football = 7-on-7? No. 7-on-7, which is highly coached by on-field coaches, is productive. Middle school and other flag football is, in my experience, totally useless and its veterans are invisible to freshman high school coaches.
Coaching Youth Flag Football book
.
We had more youth players miss games because of skateboard or bicycle injuries than football injuries. I saw one frosh QB suffer a career ending injury at the hands of an extremely hard-hitting African-American Livermore player, but no other such injuries. I think it would be extremely hard to find a youth football player who “blew out his knee” or suffered brain damage from that sport.
.
Everyone, including Madden, just assumes it without checking. If you doubt me, attend a youth game next fall. Youth games feel like high school, not like youth sports.
.
You start by paying to get in. The games are played at high school and college fields. The stands are not full but there are a hell of a lot of parents and siblings in the stands. Professional fully uniformed refs, using the press box including a public address announcer and the electronic scoreboard, paid snack bar, maybe an ambulance parked there all day.
.
The cheerleaders are in the same quality and cost uniforms as the local high school cheerleaders.
.
The youth tackle players are wearing NFL equipment in terms of cost and quality. How can that be? All the toy companies who made football equipment before were sued out of business. Youth tackle pads and helmets are literally NFL quality and made by the same companies like Schutt. By law, the helmets have to be inspected and certified annually for all levels youth to NFL. Except for size, the youth tackle helmets are identical to the NFL helmets
.
John Madden never coached a youth football team. If he had somehow coached a youth team against mine—like his grandkids’, I might have beaten him.
.
He would have tried to do too much in terms of athletic ability after coaching only All-Americans in the NFL. He would not have known how to best handle the minimum-play rules. He would have been appalled at the utter absence of athletic ability of many of his players. He would allocate too little time to rules like false start and acquiring skills like the long snap. He would have no conception of getting players who never hit in their lives to hit. His schemes would have been too complex. He would not know that youth players cannot play zone pass defense.
.
I used to teach clinics for youth football coaches. Some of my students were former NFL players. Typically, they thought they knew it all, had a disappointing season, and came to me to learn how to coach this new, to them, sport of YOUTH football.
.
Example discussion between me and a former NFL player:
.
Me: Your wide side D end must contain the sweep.
Former NFL: No, he needs to force the sweep wider.
Me: He will score on every play no matter the field position if you do that.
Former NFL: No, the linebackers will run him down because it will take longer for him to run wider then turn upfield.
Me: The ball carrier in youth will often be a future NCAA or NFL player. Your youth linebackers will likely play clarinet in high school. In college and pro, the linebackers and DBs were probably the best player at their high school in the last ten years. They are as fast at the running backs. The sweeping youth ball carrier is likely the fastest guy on the field. Ain’t nobody on the youth D even gonna touch him on the play.
Former NFL player: Now that you mention it, we got killed on every sweep lay last season. I’ll try it your way.
.
Coaching Freshman & Junior Varsity High School Football
JOHNTREED.COM
Coaching Freshman & Junior Varsity High School Football

Share this post



← Older Post Newer Post →