TERRY COLUMN: Protecting the future of football

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The continuing wave of bad press surrounding the negative effects of football hasnít really stopped how we treat and teach the sport.

We know more than we ever have about head injuries and concussions and how they can affect players and their daily lives.

Because of that, most coaches, teams, players and parents have beun to take steps that would keep players from injuring themselves further. They sit out practices or games and certain drills that emphasize hitting over advancing skills have been limited or completely eliminated from the game.

Itís all been an improvement on how the game of football limits not only head injuries but other injuries.

However, the only true way to take head injuries out of football is to take out one of its core disciplines.

You have to get rid of tackling.

Obviously, you canít get rid of tackling completely.

But, if weíre really serious about cutting back on the amounts of hits players accrue over a career, we can cut them back at the lower levels.

Hall of Fame defensive lineman Warren Sapp got behind the idea this week on a video posted to the Players Tribune website.

ďIím talking about 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13,Ē Sapp said. ďWe eliminate the tackle football for all the kids. We put them on equal playing fields so that all their brains develop. Then, when theyíre in high school, now letís go!Ē

What Sapp points to comes from experience.

Thereís no reason to teach tackling to a 10-year-old.

You donít weight train with kids at that level.

You donít teach kids that age to throw a curveball because of concerns about arm health down the road.

U.S. Soccer banned allowing kids below 11 to use their heads to hit the ball.

Body checks arenít allowed in hockey at that age, if not only to limit hits but to focus on fundamentals.

Thatís precisely what the focus should be below the high school levels: fundamentals.

So why then, are we having kids as young as 7 playing tackle football?

You can teach the fundamentals of tackling to a freshman in high school and never lose a step. Very few kids that age ever make a varsity squad. Thereís plenty of time to teach how to properly tackle in sub-varsity games and practices.

Whatís more important at the lower levels is teaching how properly throw a football or how to run routes. You can still teach blocking, how to secure the ball and the correct angles to take towards a ball carrier.

Not of that involves tackling. In fact, itís easier to teach the fundamentals when theyíre not focused on the violent ending.

Thereís no way to take the violence out of football, and doing so would make the sport less fun.

However, there is plenty more we can do to make sure the fun continues without the future pain.

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