The RedZone Youth Football League (powered by NFL Flag) is a flag football league; yet it will be highly instructional, competitive on game day, and start to teach the correct fundamentals of tackling to the older groups. The debate of padded vs. non-padded youth football has certainly been a hot button topic across the country as of late. In my opinion, flag football offers youth players a better opportunity for fundamental skill development (without the restriction of pads) and is a safer option for players who are still learning the game and developing physically. I believe both of these aspects will lead to higher quality and more sustained football participation as an athlete continues his/her career beyond the youth level.
Much of the debate in the media has been focused on injuries and safety in the sport in general, especially at the youth level. The importance of continued research and safety measures is paramount to the future success of the sport as it evolves. The age a player starts playing tackle, long-term effects of head impacts, and other safety concerns can be discussed for days. However, I’d like to share a growing viewpoint on purely skill and awareness development in a padded or non-padded structure. I don’t intend to attack youth tackle football or tell you that it’s bad. My opinion is that it is simply not the best way to teach the game to youth players.
Too often, I’ve seen a youth football player spend 15 minutes trying to put his pads on. After that, he can barely turn his head, lift his arms, or bend his knees due to the restriction of the equipment. Youth players have difficulty performing basic fundamental football movements WITHOUT pads (high knees, shuffle, getting in/out of a stance)- and that’s just the warm up! Players need to master these basic skills and others like moving in space, judging a ball in the air or the speed of a ball carrier, catching on the run, learning angles of pursuit, and so many more before they should put the pads on. Performing these fundamentals incorrectly in pads while their bodies are still learning basic functional movement often leads to developing hard-to-break habits that may actually hurt performance as a player grows older.
Personally, I didn’t play a down of organized football until 7th grade. I played 8-man football at a tiny high school in southwest Iowa, yet was still able to pursue my dream of playing major college football. Not once did I ever feel at a disadvantage on the field because I didn’t play tackle football as a youth. My skill development as a football player, and as an athlete, happened on the playground at recess. I believe the game is played in its purest form and an immense amount of skill and awareness are developed during these pick-up games. There are no coaches, referees, or layers of rules and structure. You split into teams, and you play ball. On the playground, you learn how to get open and catch the ball if you want your buddy to keep throwing it your way. You learn how to juke a defender so you don’t get touched. You learn to judge the ball and time your jump to defend a pass. And you learn how to throw a good pass or your teammates might not let you play quarterback!
Our vision for the RedZone Youth Football League is to re-create this recess-like environment with an emphasis on developing sound football fundamentals that will stick with players and help them be successful as they transition to padded football in middle school. Lead by a curriculum put together by local football experts, coaches will be instructed to hold practices in a fun, high-energy teaching environment. Games are expected to be faced-paced and competitive as these players show their stuff on the field! Our end goal for the league is to deliver these youth players to their junior high football programs with fundamental skills sets, an understanding of the game & proper tackling techniques, and an eagerness to keep participating in a sport that so many of us enjoy being part of.