John Madden doesn’t believe in the Heads Up Football program

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Via the national TV network it owns and operates, the NFL has launched a “Heads Up Across America” tour, aimed at extolling the virtues of the Heads Up Football program and, in turn, calming the fears of parents who may choke off the supply of future NFL players.

From Texas to Pennsylvania to Arizona (which is actually only six percent of America, but apparently they rounded up), NFL Network has looked at what youth coaches are doing to keep kids safe via the Heads Up Football program.  It all went according to plan. Until the effort landed in Canton, for a roundtable discussion including Hall of Fame coach John Madden and Commissioner Roger Goodell.

With the likes of moderator Melissa Stark, Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin, and Chris Golic (wife of Mike Golic) praising the Heads Up Football coaching certification process, Madden did what Madden made his career as a broadcaster doing — he blurted out something that he believes in, genuinely and often strongly.

“[T]hey can’t learn them in a short time,” Madden said of the techniques taught to coaches in the Heads Up Football program.  “I was a coach, and I put a lot of education and experience into coaching. . . .  How long does it take to get a certificate?”

“An hour and a half,” Goodell said.

“And all due respect to the program, I don’t believe in it,” Madden replied.  “I respect coaches, I respect what good coaches do.  I know that you don’t learn to be a coach in an hour and a half.”

Goodell, who in that moment may have preferred being grilled again about Ray Rice, tried to address Madden’s concerns.

“It’s not saying you’re going to make someone a great coach,” Goodell explained.  “It’s certifying them in certain techniques and giving them some understanding of some of the medical issues.  Not to make them a doctor, but to know when to make sure they get medically evaluated if they’ve had an injury.”

While the actual value of the certification process, as Drew Magary of Deadspin illustrated earlier this year, is subject to debate, Madden had a broader point to make.  And when Madden has a point to make, he makes it.

“I’m a firm believer that there’s no way that a six-year-old should have a helmet on and learn a tackling drill,” Madden said.  “There’s no way.  Or a seven-year-old or an eight-year-old.  They’re not ready for it.  Take the helmets off kids. . . .  Start at six years old, seven years old, eight years old, nine years old.  They don’t need a helmet.  They can play flag football.  And with flag football you can get all the techniques.  Why do we have to start with a six-year-old who was just potty trained a year ago and put a helmet on him and tackle? . . .  We’ll eventually get to tackling.”

On one hand, it’s admirable that the league didn’t scrub or edit or otherwise ignore Madden’s views.  On the other hand, the league doesn’t seem to be inclined to adopt Madden’s opinion, honed through decades of involvement in the sport.  Instead, the NFL apparently will let Madden speak his mind, nod respectfully, and then continue to certify coaches through 90-minute video sessions to teach kids under 10 years old to tackle with helmets on.

Why not support unequivocally Madden’s belief that kids under 10 (and probably a little older) shouldn’t play tackle football?  They can play flag football, they can learn the game, they can graduate to helmets and tackling at a higher level.  The widespread availability of flag football for kids not yet in high school or middle school could actually draw more kids to the game, giving parents a way to let their children play safely at a young age before taking more physical risks after they’ve grown and matured a bit.

130 responses to “John Madden doesn’t believe in the Heads Up Football program

  1. Ever notice how the Commish cringes a bit when a voice with authority speaks an unwelcome truth?

  2. While I’m not the biggest Madden fan and think he was an overrated coach yet a marketing brand genius…he makes a very valid point….

    you can’t just expect these kids and coaches to change their ways overnight.

    You play the game a certain way for sooo long that when you it all becomes routine. and when you go full speed, your instinct takes over. The moment you stop and hesitate is the moment you get injured

  3. This is a very good idea from John Madden. Strange coming from one of the coaches who used violence and intimidation to build one of the best football programs in the NFL.

  4. Kudos to Madden. Risk of injury is why I won’t let my child play tackle football, but I’d certainly reconsider if it was flag football.

  5. I played pop warner and youth in Western Massachusetts, not exactly a hub of football talent. I don’t know about coaches elsewhere in the country but I do know that the kids who played from a younger age almost always had much better technique in both blocking and especially tackling. And at the end of the day, thats what will protect players, good technique. Tackling with good form reduces head injuries. High School football is just starting up practice out here and once the contact starts, just by watching, I bet I could fairly accurately tell you which kids played youth and which ones didn’t.

  6. “Why do we have to start with a six-year-old who was just potty trained a year ago and put a helmet on him and tackle? . . . We’ll eventually get to tackling”

    Madden nails it.

  7. He’s absolutely right. I am a youth football coach and needed to take an online test to get “certified” by USA Football. It was a two hour course with questions like “multiple choice, what color is the sun?” Taking an online course does not make you “certified” to teach proper technique. I bet half the guys who want to coach forgot most of what they saw in the “online course” two seconds after they closed their browser.

  8. As a counter point, perhaps younger is better for learning the tackling techniques. 6 year olds lack the speed, strength and size to hit with the kind of force that causes injuries. The older and more developed the player gets, the harder they are able to hit. Force=mass*acceleration.
    Teach them the proper way to tackle when the risk is low and they’ll continue to use that technique when they are bigger and faster.

    I don’t have definitive data, but I suspect that serious injuries per capita of football players ramps up as the players grow.

    for example
    Pee Wee football 1 in 1,000,000
    High School football 1 in 1000
    College Football 1 in 100
    NFL 1 in 10

  9. Back in the mid 1970s, we played pop warner flag football with shoulder pads, helmets, blue jeans (or Toughskins) to learn the game at 8 and 9 years old. Did not play tackle until we were 10. Even then they had a lightweight and heavyweight divisions all the way to 7th grade. At 8th grade we played for the school against other towns,

  10. Why are sub-10 y/o’s playing tackle?
    My nephew played YMCA flag football until 6th grade.
    He’s now playing college football, he wasn’t tackling under 10 and didn’t seem to affect his skill set.

    I has no idea “heads up” football meant sticking squirts in full gear.
    Mark Cuban is right . . . killing the goose that lays the golden egg.

  11. As a youth football coach we have been teaching heads up tackling for over 25 years.

  12. The Heads Up program, while designed to avoid concussions to the head, might just create several new neck and shoulder injures. Take a minute and actually look at the physics involved and you just night agree!

  13. Madden hit it right on the head, you can’t learn to be a coach in 90 mins, this entire program is nothing more than the NFL’s escape clause for any future lawsuits.

  14. Anyone who takes an opposing position to or challenges Goodell is okay, and probably right, in my book. Finally, someone standing up and challenging this nonsense!

  15. It’s almost the same thing for learning the ImPact test. Basically, anyone can be trained and it’s only one piece of the puzzle. There needs to be a trained clinician on the sidelines (i.e. neuropsychologist, physician, physical therapist with extensive training and/or certification). The ImPact essentially only looks at the cognitive symptoms of concussion with very little attention being paid to physical, emotional, and even sleep. All concussion protocols must involve a multifactorial evaluation using multiple collateral sources of information. While I applaud the Heads Up program as a good start, it is by no means sufficient. And it certainly isn’t the coaches faults; they’re simply doing all they can. At the minimum, each athlete should take the ImPact, the B.E.S.S., and the SCAT-II (or the like).

  16. No way. Flag football will turn more kids away. Nothing fun about playing defense on a flag team as nfl fans can currently attest to having been subjected to crap football the last 5+ years. Goodell would rather risk a 6 year old cranium than jeopardize the source of that obnoxious 45m salary of his.

  17. as a coach in youth football all our coaches neeed to be ‘heads up certified’ by usa football. The certification test does take more than an hour an half. Were Madden is correct is in that it is all new to so many coaches and translating that to the kids is a challenge. I believe my league is going on three years being heads up certified. The techniques in tackling are a challenge to teach but I am lucky because coaching 9-10 year olds they don’t have a lot of history of the old way of tackling. I believe like so many parents’, coaches’ that anything we can do to try and make the game we all love safer is worth a try.

  18. an even more readily apparent truth is that the supply of future talent will never be “choked off” because the majority of NFL players are minorities, many of whom come from the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder where there are factors at play that will keep the supply coming indefinitely

  19. I’m glad that he said it because he is 100% right. You can’t learn how to be a coach in 90 minutes, and it is ridiculous to expect it to work. It sounds nice. Yes, “All of our coaches are Heads Up Certified,” but you know as most of us do that it is a crock of that four letter S word.

    To see Goodell cringe was great. He thought that he had everybody on board to sign off on his BS program because all of his ‘yes men’ patted him on the back for it. Finally, someone comes in and tells him that this is a bunch of hoo-ey.

  20. Makes sense to me. In hockey kids don’t start checking until Bantams (approximately 13 years old). That was recently changed in hockey and it makes sense. Not exactly the same thing as removing the helmet, but is in then same vein. The physical contact isn’t necessary at such a young age. I’m with Madden and on his one.

  21. A plus for Madden’s flag football process is that the kids grow up playing football learning techniques that are counter to helmet leading tackles.

    imagine growing up playing football where your focus is waist high

  22. Heads up football is another money maker. I wonder how much more money parents are playing to have their children play for a heads up certified coach. If the NFL is serious about injury (in particular brain injury) then Madden’s solution is the best let children’s brains and skulls develop fully before letting them play tackle football.

  23. I helped a friend coach his son’s peewee team a few years ago. I hated it because they had 5, 6 and 7 year olds out there trying to tackle. I agree they are way too young for that. I started playing when I was 10 but I don’t see the rush to make these little kids play tackle football.

  24. I grew up playing backyard tackle football where the closest thing to a helmet was a snow hat. No one was trying to deliver Ronnie Lott shots because you’d hurt yourself just as much as the kid you hit.

    I recognize that this is a dinosaur point of view, but I don’t see the need for any organized sports for little kids, whether it be in pads or flag football. Just go outside and play. If you have a yard or a lot or a not-so-busy street, you have a football field.

  25. Nevermind the fact that:

    A) people have been taught to tackle this way for a long time. Everyon on this thread who played the game remembers doing the form tackling drills before the games, well before this program.

    B) Once you get into a game, none of this matters. It’s a bunch of complete garbage. There is no form tackling drill at 100% speed. It doesn’t exist. Everyone’s goal as a defender is to get the other guy down. As well as the offensive player to stay up. Guess what? The RB is going to lower his shoulder, or put a juke on you and all of a sudden not be where you intended him to. Everyone is trying to get as low as possible in football. I’m pretty sure a ballcarrier not going to let you square up, put your head neatly to the side of him, and wrap up his legs with your head up the whole time, and gently set him down on the ground. Give me a break. The game moves too fast for this “perfect tackle in a vaccuum”. If you don’t want to get hurt, read a book or play madden.

  26. Youth Football, ages 11 and under, is for the parents and not for the players.
    I’ve seen more parents proud that they have big kids that make others bounce off them, than be proud about learning how to really play the game.
    Playing flag football will not only make kids do more athletic and fitness activities but will make other kids want to play football as well that shy away do to physical size. As it is, playing only 10 plays per game for some of the smaller kids seems more condescending rather than of any true value for the sport, much less fun for kids that sit on the bench.

  27. Goodell forgot to mention to Madden that the NFL plans to implement a series of fines to children who do not show proper tackling techniques

  28. I just saw a poster on the corner of the street the other day advertising flag football for kids. It showed a couple of kids with happy smiling faces and no helmets, it was a pleasant sight.

  29. Helmets cause more injuries than they prevent. Players feel invincible in helmets. They use they as weapons.

    When two helmets hit, the force can be huge and the helmets cannot protect the brain.

    Rugby is a violent sport that does not use helmets. Guess what, there are fewer head injuries in rugby than in football.

    People learn to tackle properly when their head is not protected.

  30. I don’t see any justification for kids under about 12 to be playing full tackle football. I just wish the national media would pick up this story and get Madden’s viewpoint some more traction. Given what we know about head injuries now, I’m surprised the American Academy of Pediatrics hasn’t been more vocally opposed to kids that young playing tackle football.

  31. Little kids tackle football has always been a creation for the enjoyment of parents and adults who miss being a part of sports. They think its cute to see little Johnny all dressed up, looking like mini pro players.

    The problem is the kids’ brains are still developing. They are not little adults. Many can’t handle the weight of a helmet which causes them to drop their heads even more when tackling and getting prepared to be tackled. Their heads hit the ground and create whiplash effect because their neck is not strong enough.

    Adults do more to wreck sports for the kids than anything else.

  32. Reading the headline I thoguht John Madden was off his rocker but he is 100% correct. As a youth coach who is certified by several organizations for jsut attending clinics, I can tell you I have no idea what the hell I am doing from those clinics they teach to cover thier butts.

    the lawyers tell them to make sure you certify your coaches and they are a joke, I have spent hours and house and hours doing stuff on my own learning from other coaches that has been valuable and the “certification ” I have it worthless.

  33. Even the NFL needs to re-invent the intention of tackling as “bringing” a man to the ground. Many years ago it became “hitting” with the intention of knocking him out if possible and hence bringing him to the ground unconscious and hopefully with the fear of god in him to ever jump in the air to catch a pass or fight for an extra yard. Put soft helmets and pads on them so they have less use of their bodies as battering rams and learn to live without the “smack” of dangerous hits.

    And while we’re on major re-inventions of sports , can someone remind the NBA that palming, traveling, and “backing” someone in to the cheap seats like a backwards charge are in fact illegal. Thanks.

  34. The “Pro Cap” is something that worked at the NFL level and should be adopted as mandatory at all levels of football.

    Adding an additional layer of protection to the helmets just seems “too easy” to the football politicians…

    …but it is that easy!

    The Pro Cap worked for NFL players who had their careers threatened due to frequent concussions…Mark Kelso and Steve Wallace used the Pro Cap and credit it for adding years to their NFL careers.

    The Pro Cap would work at all levels of football if the (football) politicians would agree to give it a try.

    I suggest that Moms and Dads do there own research concerning the Pro Cap, which is being tried by several high schools. Do the research and make sure your opinions are heard by Athletic Directors and school board members.

    The Pro Cap should be mandatory for football at all levels.

  35. Madden is right, the NFL is wrong… Is there any real benefit for a 6, 7, 8 or 9-year old (maybe even a bit older) playing tackle football… Flag football in that time of life (when the body and brain are still growing and don’t need any additional chance of trauma) is more than enough to teach the game and how it’s played. The NFL should wake up and realize that not just anyone with a certificate can or will teach/do what they are supposed to do when it comes to real life.

  36. On one hand, it’s admirable that the league didn’t scrub or edit or otherwise ignore Madden’s views.
    Does PFT really want to commend the league for NOT scrubbing someone’s opinion….

  37. Be nice if people had a real clue about the heads up program. Surprised Roger doesn’t know it takes more than and hour and a half to get certified.If you push something at least be accurate in what you say.As far as age goes plenty of 8,9,10 year olds have a great time out there playing tackle football.

  38. I agree with madden 100% but also th NFL had to do something to show they are trying to help reduce concussions and this was the best idea. 90 minutes of tackling practice is better than none.

  39. Kids only need to play flag football and wrestle until they start high school, flag teaches you the game and wrestling will make them tough..

  40. Say what you will about Madden, whether he’s right or wrong, whether he is an appropriate authority on the topic, whether he is addressing valid concerns and whether his opinion should stand out over others’. We’re here discussing the topic, a VERY important topic to all parents, such as I, who have children playing football. Without Madden’s comments there is no way so many people would be considering the point and discussing it with others, and that is definitely more important than even if he is right or wrong, because nothing will happen either way unless the parents of children who play get involved to make change.

  41. The $30 million dollar a year man Goodell is starting to lose his magic touch. Up through the CBA he seemed like he could do no wrong. Even put Dan Rooney in his place when Dan complained that Goodell’s offence first policies were hard on the Steelers.
    Now he is slipping. Suspending guys forever over weed, which two states have legalized. Slapping Rice on the wrist for beating the crap out’ve his fiancé. Now this faux safety program for kids being called out to his face by a big leaguer.
    Watch out Roger, your billionaire bosses know weakness when they see it.
    Couldn’t happen to a better guy.

  42. My son is 10 and has been playing since he was 6. In the last 5 years at his level I have seen only 1 injury and it was a broken finger. As long as the kids are taught correctly injuries can be minimal. Not saying kids won’t get hurt, but at least teaching to hit without using your helmet can lead to a lot fewer kids getting concussions. And I agree with Madden that you can’t become a coach in 90 minutes, that is somethoing that takes years.

  43. “On one hand, it’s admirable that the league didn’t scrub or edit or otherwise ignore Madden’s views.
    Does PFT really want to commend the league for NOT scrubbing someone’s opinion….”

    pot meet kettle, huh????

  44. Played 11 yrs of organized football, wish I hadn’t.
    I was taught from day to tackle with my head up,,,not down. Tackling with the head down causes injuries to the tackler,,,head up is the only way to tackle.
    Biggest thing I see is the stamp-pad shoulder pads the NFLer’s wear. Probably need to return to the days of the 70s, 80’s shoulder pads.

  45. “Heads Up” is yet another program designed to cover the NFL’s butt.

    These type of theory based programs are rampant today, they are to appease insurance companies and make the company look better in the public’s eyes.

    It’s all theory.

  46. You can tell gooddell is a dictator when a better idea is thrown at his feet which screams of safety while at the same time washes their hands of the Concussions debate for kids And would allow more people (boys and girls)to play football at a young age installing a even greater fan base or player base but he digs his heels into his crappy plan just to save face, 90 mins of reading doesn’t make you able to correctly spot concussions in children.

  47. No more of an authority than Madden tells the Commish this program is fluff. Awesome.

  48. Hockey for many years started hitting at 11 years old and now they’ve moved it to 13 and older.

    That makes sense to me. Tackling is not needed at younger ages for football either. Madden is right.

  49. Have you seen the heads up football program?? I had to be certified in order to coach youth football this year. It’s a joke. The form alone puts your kid at risk. They want the kid in a break down position (which is a good start) then to have chin up, bury the facemask in the numbers, wrap high around the back and lift…last time I checked that’s how running backs make a living…running guys who tackle high like that, over. You can absolutely teach kids to tackle with their heads up and wrap the legs. To hit below the waist…you know…to stop the runners legs from moving. Heads up is great if you have a kid running straight at you…in a drill, where he can use no moves, no extra space just one on one runner vs tackler…how many times do you see that in a football game? If you attempt to make a one on one open field tackle in that fashion you’re left holding your jock while the runner jukes you. While I don’t agree with Madden that certain ages shouldn’t be playing tackle, he is right about good coaches teaching the right things. When they’re ages 8, 9 etc…you can mold them into using great form and technique that they will use automatically as they continue to play when they get older. Our staff took the certification because we had to, not because we believe it is actually useful.

  50. Of course Madden is correct. But that program was never really intended to protect anybody–it was a quick-fix PR stunt to make it look like the NFL cares.

    This is the entire problem of Goodell’s NFL. There is no long-term thought to anything, it’s all about instant gratification: Make a few more dollars right now, control this PR problem right now…. In a few years people will look back and be wondering how the NFL made so many horrible decisions and the answer will all come down to the fact that nobody was looking at the long-term.

  51. I agree with Madden about 6 year olds not playing tackle football and think Goodell is a moron about some things. However, Madden has made millions off his video games which have promoted the violent side of the game for ever.
    Therefore, Madden comes off as a blowhard with his comments.
    Goodell said he played football when he was that age and doesn’t regret it. I guess not. He makes 30 million per year, so why would he regret anything?

  52. I’m in total agreement with Coach Madden. Young kids do not need helmets on. They are to heavy for them. Kids should be play flag until are physically ready to put helmet on. Doctors should do a study and weigh in on the subject. But why do that when Goodell knows all and does all!

  53. I agree with madden, however….you have to consider that the NFL doesn’t run youth football, and that the NFL is fighting a bit of a war against those who think football is dangerous. its a PR battle, but its something that could sink the sport, and it starts with the pee wee leagues. again, since they don’t control or own those, they can only do so much, teaching proper techniques is a good way to go as in the future they can say they were doing all they could to help even youth football learn to tackle.

    its tough, do we want the NFL shut down by moms of America who start some PC campaign? I don’t.

    but they should be playing flag until middle school at least

  54. last week on NFL network, they had a HS outside of Philly demonstrated the techniques being taught. talk about a broken neck waiting to happen. made absolutely zero sense on tackling what was being demonstrated.

  55. disagree on your comments on madden’s video game. if anything, they have been the “simulation” side of football, and don’t at all focus on the big hit injury aspect that other games did in the past. its been a pretty clean game for awhile. a horribly produced game that needs a new company that can have penalties work and real football strategy, but that is another story-

  56. I think they can be in helmets just to learn what it feels like to be in pads, and to protect from knocking heads, but I agree with Madden on this.

    Just like Little Leaguers throwing curve balls (which was ruled out finally). Their bodies haven’t grown enough to handle it.

    Let them get to Middle School before they start tackling at least.

  57. scoops1 says:
    Aug 5, 2014 9:26 AM
    While I’m not the biggest Madden fan and think he was an overrated coach yet a marketing brand genius…he makes a very valid point….


    Overrated as a coach? He’s only number two on the all-time career winning percentage list, and number one for any coach with 10yrs or more seasons.

    Maybe to put it into perspective. He coached 6 more games than Vince Lombardi yet won 7 more games total.

  58. This is what happens when you let lawyers and people with MBAs run the league instead of people who actually played and coached the game. When the concussion lawsuits were filed, the league freaked out and instituted all sorts of irrational and knee-jerk rules made by lawyers. Madden is right and Goodell is wrong.

  59. Flag football certainly teaches technique, and maybe if more schools taught rugby, then kids would learn better tackling technique too. They will certainly not get into the habit of leading with their heads, or wanting to ‘light up’ the ball carrier – possibly causing injury to the player or themselves.

    Respect due for John Madden.

    Brett Favre…

  60. What amazes me is, football has all this scrutiny now about concussions, yet boxing and the Ultimate Fighting type contests are even more dangerous to someone and hardly a whimper is said. The intent in those sports is to knock someone out, period.
    Here’s where I stand: do everything you can to protect athletes in their chosen sports, but once they’ve signed on to play them, what ever happens to them is on them. We all know what the dangers are.
    Don’t come back 10 to 20 years from now complaining about injuries you got by playing. Anyone who plays now is fully aware of the risks involved. It’s no different than car racing, or skiing, or any other physically challenging sport.
    But keep kids from playing this sport until they’re old enough to decide for themselves whether they want to play.

  61. @enigma4370

    “As a counter point, perhaps younger is better for learning the tackling techniques. 6 year olds lack the speed, strength and size to hit with the kind of force that causes injuries. The older and more developed the player gets, the harder they are able to hit. Force=mass*acceleration.
    Teach them the proper way to tackle when the risk is low and they’ll continue to use that technique when they are bigger and faster.”

    Apparently you have never had a six year old jump at your crotch!

  62. After reading several comments, some very good ones I might add, I’ve made my conclusion. They’re are hundreds of thousands of football coaches. If they all have to pay money every year or even once to become “certified” that means millions more $$ for the NFL. Madden called BS because he is a genuine person.

  63. “Why do we have to start with a six-year-old who was just potty trained a year ago and put a helmet on him and tackle?”

    If my first kid was unable to be potty trained until the age of five, I never would have had that second kid…

  64. My son is 5 and is playing nfl youth flag football. For those not familiar with flag it does not teach any techniques that would be helpful with tackling. The rules are so different that it is almost a different sport. In certain areas you have to pass, limits on who can rush qb and your feet need to be in the end zone to score a td. And obviously tackling is never discussed since you won’t be tackling.

  65. If kids want to tackle, let them play tackle.

    Without helmets or pads. Absurd to put young children in full gear. They can’t even see out of a helmet at that age.

  66. I love me some football, but also not interested in seeing these guys killing themselves, literally, once they retire.

    I get it, they signed up for it/they do it for the money/blah, blah, blah. But as a human being, there has to be a way to reduce the frequency with which this is occurring, all the way down to the Pee Wee levels.

    These guys don’t need to die for my amusement.

  67. Well, growing up in Western Pa., midget league began at age 10. When I returned there after living in S.F. for 10 yrs they had the termites (flag) 5-7 yrs old, the mighty mites (full equipment) 7-9 yrs old. I was asked to coach the mighty mites. Had a ball but I think Madden is right. 10 yrs old is soon enough for full contact.

  68. Dictator Goodell: note to self, never ask Tagliabue or Madden for their opinion. If I can’t fine them I don’t want to hear them.

  69. My son is 9 years old. Wants to play football for the first time. Wants to play tackle football. I played football in high school and even from those 4 years had life long lasting injuries. My back and neck were both injured and never were the same. I told my son he could start with flag football this year and signed him up for it this fall. He was disappointed, but understood. I told him we would revisit the tackle football discussion in a year or two. We grew up playing tackle football in the park with kids in the neighborhood. Didn’t have as much organized sports back then. Started playing tackle in high school. They don’t need to start “grooming” these kids to be pros at age 6. Baseball is the worst. Traveling teams, spend all your free time and money on it. Not going to do it.

  70. Geez, Coach. I know that Pleasanton is a sleepy community, but potty trained at five??? When does kindergarden start, at eight?

  71. Here’s where I stand on it, and I halfway agree with Madden. Firstly, I don’t think a 6-year old ought to be wearing an NFL-style helmet. Not because they shouldn’t be playing tackle football, but because they shouldn’t need an NFL-style helmet while doing so.

    I played tackle football in my back-yard with the neighbor kids with absolutely no equipment from age 8 through about age 13 with nary an injury of any kind to any one of us. We’re talking about kids who weigh south of 100 pounds – and you’re a LOT more conscious about your head when you don’t have a 10-pound helmet on it.

    Let the kids play tackle football, but find something different than an NFL-style helmet to put on their heads. They should be wearing something lighter that doesn’t make them feel like lowering their head and bull-dozing through a tackler is the sensible move. Perhaps something more akin to what Rugby football players wear would be a lot more appropriate to help teach a child how to play full-contact football without using their head as a weapon.

    As a result of my sandlot football background, when I did finally start playing padded full-contact football in 7th grade, I was naturally tackling the way kids are taught to tackle. Head up, shoulders up, and wrap up. Never occurred to me to use my head as a weapon.

    I think Madden’s view of just delaying tackle football is the wrong move. The kids have to be taught at a young age how to engage and tackle, or else as soon as you slap a helmet on them, it’s going to become a weapon for them.

    That’s my personal, uneducated opinion, anyway.

  72. Peewee football is getting less and less kids in our area and that’s a good thing. Bring the kids along slower and the sport of Football will benefit.

  73. Fire Goodell, Hire Madden as commish, and let the game be… need for all these stupid changes.

  74. I’m reading posts from the emasculated many. What the heel happened to America?

    We played sandlot TACKLE football without pads, helmets, sometimes even shoes. I didn’t put on a helmet until 9th grade, and never played any flag football. We had bloody noses, black eyes, and i recall even a few headaches that might have been concussions.

    You people are not enlightened – your not living.

  75. I love madden, he won once, right? and was a terrific broadcaster, and at the same time kind of a lovable buffoon.

    seems like hes making sense here.

    flag football until they’re ten

  76. I didn’t play tackle football in full pads until I was in Jr. High. Up until then, I played in the backyard with my brothers and friends. When I got to Jr. High, I was just as athletic as anybody else on the field, but there was a very noticeable difference in the technique and skill level of tackling between those of us who just started real football and those who had played peewee and pop warner. They were taught the right way at a younger age and it was just natural to them to play faster and safer. It took 2 or 3 years of playing in full pads to catch up to their level.

    My 6 year old begged to play football this year and we gave him the option of tackle in full pads or flag. He chose tackle and I’m ok with that. Yesterday in their practice they spent 60 minutes on tackling drills. Even on his team at that young of an age, there’s a noticeable difference in the technique of the 7 year olds who played last year and the new 6 year olds this year. If a coach isn’t doing his best to teach proper technique, that’s unfortunate. I, as a parent, take that responsibility upon myself because I want to make sure he learns the right way. The Heads Up program isn’t a bad thing. It’s a start and at the least it lets the coaches know that attention needs to be placed on proper technique.

    Better than the heads up program and what needs to be more widely pushed by coaches is Pete Carroll’s tackling video. That’s great instruction with tons of examples of NFL players tackling properly while going 100% that kids can watch as good examples on how to tackle safely. My son’s coach emailed the video to all the parents last night and I think it’s awesome and I hope other parents are having their kids watch it and practice it regularly. The more we can do now to teach them to tackle properly, the more natural it will be for them when they grow up and are big and fast enough to cause injuries when they play.

  77. I have a 9 year old son.. I played football all the way through high school..

    No way is he playing tackle football right now in full pads including a helmet.

    I am with Madden 100% and if the NFL cares about these kids they would focus on teaching the fundamentals first with flags…

  78. I think the idea is that if you want pro coaches not screaming “get a hat on a hat” and pro defenders not spearing ball carriers with their helmets in 2021, you have to get coaches not to teach it and players not to learn it in 2010.
    That’s all they are trying to do. Change the culture of coaching and the reflex of playing.

    It will not mean much until a “heads up” defensive player gets drafted top of his class and not heads up player gets drafted way lower cause he is a development prospect.

  79. I support youth football my son is 10 and has been playing for 4 seasons and has never been hurt. Not all kids have the build to complete in flag football.

  80. I coach youth football and run an organization. We used to have divisions for 7 – 17.

    We never had 5 & 6 year old team, and never believed in it.

    We haven’t had a 7 & 8 team in two years, and may not have a 9 & 10 year old team this year for the first time because we cant’ get enough players in those younger age groups.

    I think 9 & 10 makes sense as an appropriate age to start.

    The problem with Flag is that it is for skill players only. What do you do with the (little) big men? Leave them on the couch getting fatter until they are in middle school?

  81. I completely disagree with Madden on this. My son was kicked, elbowed, and had other kids fall on his head while playing flag football. He even had a ref hit him in the head with the ball. Most kids in the 5-7 year old range don’t generate enough speed or power for a hard collision. Yes, there is not supposed to be any tackling in flag football, but they do fall down a lot. He was happy to finally put on that helmet for tackle. Tackling is easy, shoulder to the mid section, head up and on the ball, wrap up.

  82. I couldn’t start playing tackle football where I grew up until I was 13. It just became available to middle schoolers when I was 11 or 12. Prior to that you had to wait until high school. I think middle school is the earliest kids should be playing football.

  83. I agree with Madden. I live in canada and we have started a similar approach in hockey. In some provinces, checking is no longer allowed until age 13 or more (used to me 10-11). Kids focus on learning the skills required for hockey. When checking starts, mandatory checking training is required.
    For those that think football is more violent,try skating at 30 Mph into another player skating 30 mph in the opposite direction.

  84. I have sons and grandsons that have played flag football, soccer, and baseball. Madden is probably correct, but football doesn’t get interesting until they start tackling. That won’t change any time soon.

  85. barrywhererufrom says:
    Aug 5, 2014 9:57 AM
    as a coach in youth football all our coaches neeed to be ‘heads up certified’ by usa football. The certification test does take more than an hour an half. Were Madden is correct is in that it is all new to so many coaches and translating that to the kids is a challenge. I believe my league is going on three years being heads up certified. The techniques in tackling are a challenge to teach but I am lucky because coaching 9-10 year olds they don’t have a lot of history of the old way of tackling. I believe like so many parents’, coaches’ that anything we can do to try and make the game we all love safer is worth a try.
    Did you ever play football? Real football, not sandlot? There is no way you would come to the conclusion that “heads up’s” instruction to tackling is safer. Their instruction as to form, will result in more helmet to helmet collisions between ball carrier and tackler…because they teach to tackle HIGH! A runner is taught to lower his pad level…well the head comes with it, and now you add the tackler that’s been taught to try and hit the numbers with his face mask…now you get helmet to helmet. If the tackler is taught to hit lower shoulder at the belt buckle ,with head up, wrap the legs and take down, the likelihood of helmet to helmet is greatly reduced. They can also, because we’re talking youth football, take down kids much bigger and stronger than them, with good form and technique. You want to know why it’s difficult to teach?? Because it’s not how you tackle or to avoid injury. Wrestlers don’t attempt takedowns by going high…they shoot at the legs. I will never teach a kid to tackle that way, it is almost inapplicable at game speed, and a sure fire way to get run over.

  86. Madden is absolutely correct! Admittedly the research into the long term impact of concussions and the sub-concussive hits that you sustain playing football is new and evolving rapidly I just can’t see how as a prudent individual you can’t conclude that tackle football is not good for the brain regardless of age. I played both high school and college and I won’t let my 9 year old play football. Read Dr Cantu’s research, the Sports Legacy Institutes research, Virginia Tech and Purdue’s study of the impact that your brain suffers when playing football. Read about Owen Thomas from UPenn. The research and information will blow your mind. I wish it wasn’t true but there is certainly based on the preponderance of evidence a link to long term neurological and health issues of playing football.

  87. arrruserious –

    you need to read about the issues with the sub-concussive hits – Owen Thomas story from UPenn, Sports Legacy Institute, Dr Ann McKee, Dr. Robert Cantu, The documentary by PBS “The League of Denial”. Chris Nowinski and his efforts to educate people about not the dangers of just football but of concussions (which can happen in any sport) but the research is suggesting that the brain is more vulnerable then we initially thought. I am telling played both high school and college and I will not let my son play. I wish it was not true but after you do the reading you might be surprised about the full impact that football or any contact support has on the brain.

  88. I agree that children younger than 10 years probably are better off not playing tackle football. However, the NFL is powerless to implement such a limitation. If someone in Erie, PA wants a youth football league, how can the NFL prevent it? What the NFL can do is to help to implement programs that teach safe tackling techniques.

  89. Madden seems to forget that his dopey video game promotes and glamorizes hits and guys dancing like fools.The NFL has a real problem with huge guys causing major collisions.So spare me Madden…

  90. And yet again Mike Florio can’t refrain from making a crack on Ray Rice. How about Goodell preferring to be grilled about these players who were all arrested on domestic abuse/violence against women charges and received no punishment at all from the NFL, or a lesser punishment than Ray Rice:

    Greg Hardy
    Adewale Ojomo
    Adam “Pacman” Jones
    Darryl Washington
    Quentin Jones
    Leroy Hill
    Chris Rainey
    Robert Sands
    Bryan Thomas
    Chad Johnson
    Dez Bryant
    Jarriel King
    Erik Walden
    Julian Edelman
    Chris Cook

  91. Maybe NOBODY should play football?

    Isn’t it a sign of intelligence that people don’t do things that are inevitably bad for them? Don’t we tell people not to smoke? Don’t we tell them to lose weight? Don’t we tell them to buckle up?

    Maybe the sport is too savage for civilized people to play. Like gladiatorial games in Rome.

  92. Madden is completely off base. Our flag kids still tackle and play rough no matter how much we tell them not to and try to restrict and regulate them. We are thankful to be part of Heads Up, finally have our kids in pads and helmets and be able to teach them proper and safe play. We had more injuries in flag then we do in controlled tackle.

  93. I have been coaching football for the past 10 years. I am the head coach and admin of an organization I founded which is in the process of becoming a heads up organization. Why? I have no choice, the league we play in is making it mandatory. Why mandatory? Usually that means the league is getting money or benefits of some kind. I am told once my teams become compliant we will receive $500 so I’m guessing a much larger kick back comes to the national league for becoming compliant. I am certified by just about every football certification a youth league can make you pay for to get a kickback from the certifying company (USA Football, ASEP, YFBCA, PCA, NAYS). I control the play books and techniques taught to all of my teams. I generally have between 6 and 10 teams with ages of 5 to 15 years old. Each year the number of teams we field depends on the coaching staff I have available. We form teams by first assembling a coaching staff. Each team is required to have a an offensive and defensive coordinator with combined 5 years’ experience but neither can have less than 1 year with our program. From there we fill in with other experienced or inexperienced coaches until we have 4-5 coaches for each team. If we don’t have a solid coaching staff we don’t field a team. Point being I know youth football, I know how important it is to has quality coaches teaching sound fundamentals. I think the fundamental idea of heads up football (keeping your head up and eyes on target) is sound. I have been teaching a similar method of tackling for the past 10 years. I do not agree with the exact technique they use and have yet to see any kid actually tackle like this in live game situations despite having been trained the “Heads Up” way. If you search youtube for “2013 heads up highlight reel” posted by USA Football themselves. Most of the tackles in the video don’t use the technique as taught in all the walk through and drill demos. Every players wraps up hands grabbing cloth. Also in the video multiple tackles have helmet to helmet contact. The opening play right at 12 seconds helmet to helmet both players heads bounce backwards. Again right at 37 second helmet to helmet contact this time the defender even lowers his helmet a bit to put the top of his helmet in to the runners face mask and another helmet to helmet contact at 1:19. A lot of the tackles are obstructed so you can’t really see what they player did. Pretty much the only tackle that looked like the teaching is the very last one. I think the heads up tackling is more PR and fluff than actual sound football coaching technique. Despite their claims of safety, it would be very difficult to actually prove this technique is safer when taking in to account the level of effectiveness.

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