The Decline in Youth Football Participation

2019-10-10 Youth Participation in Tackle FootballFootball participation numbers are dropping at an alarming rate nationwide.  In Vermont, we have had two traditional state powers, teams who have won multiple state championships in the last 10 years, have had to forfeit games due to low participation.

But why?  Are more kids specializing in one sport?  Is the 3-sport athlete a thing of the past?  Or have Hollywood movies and biased national narratives caused parents to fear head injuries and prohibit participation in youth programs?

Here are some facts:

The Sports Neuropsychology Society states “At this time, there is no research that causally links youth contact sport participation with a risk for CTE”.

A consensus statement from the 2016 Consensus Conference on Concussion in Sport states, “A cause-and-effect relationship has not yet been demonstrated between CTE and sport-related concussion or exposure to contact sports.”

In an opinion-editorial in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, more than two dozen medical experts publicly asserted, “The scientific evidence linking youth casual sports play to brain injury, brain injury to CTE, and CTE to dementia is not strong…To be clear, CTE pathology could be present in a normal person.”

While I understand the inherent risk of injury involved in participation in contact sports like football, I truly believe that the benefits far outweigh the risks.  I am not only a football coach but a father of three sons who all played football. Parents make risk-based decisions about their children daily, and God forbid a parent should endure the pain of a poor decision resulting in a child’s injury, but the risks of injury or death in a motor vehicle accident, a fall, or from drowning far exceed other categories.1

Youth Sports (particularly team sports) teach teamwork, interdependence, character, and inoculate young athletes against concepts like fear and loss they are likely to encounter later in life. Building a Football Development Model, like we discussed in last week’s blog, may help communities bolster football participation by creating an entree point centering on fun and athleticism. Programs like these are taught in a smart progression, are designed to develop the whole person, while focusing on fundamentals but reducing contact.

Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at and share with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for supporting this blog and joining our conversations, and as always, thanks for your time!

One thought on “The Decline in Youth Football Participation

  1. Great post! Whether a parent chooses to allow their child to play football is a decision that is relevant and unique to each individual and each individual family. If you are a person who rails against the safety of youth football, yet you allow your children to ride in an automobile without wearing a helmet (an activity far more dangerous for children) are you a hypocrite? Or just someone who’s outrage only exists for convenient circumstances?

    Full disclosure, I began playing football at 7 years of age and have allowed both of my boys to begin playing at 8 years old, and we only wear helmets in the car to and from football practice.


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