USA Football’s Rookie Tackle Provides Bridge Between Touch and Tackle

  • Post category:EDUCATION

By Dan Guttenplan, FNF Coaches Managing Editor

USA Football will introduce Rookie Tackle this season after conducting a successful pilot with two organizations last year. Rookie Tackle is a small-sided tackle football game that introduces younger players to their first experience to the contact skills of blocking and tackling.

The idea of making the transition from touch football to 11-on-11 tackle can be daunting for young players, and that’s why USA Football has created a bridge between the two experiences. USA Football’s Rookie Tackle modifies rule and field dimensions at younger ages and educates coaches, commissioners, officials and parents through its game adjustments, mechanics and skills. The program is designed to foster an age-appropriate game and practice environment better suited for the development of young football players and active, healthy athletes. Like “Coach Pitch” in baseball, cross-ice hockey or 5-a-side soccer, it provides a developmentally appropriate approach to football.

“We wanted to figure out if we can create a new version of tackle football that will serve as a bridge from flag football to 11-player tackle that we all know and love,” said Nick Inzerello, USA Football Senior Director of Partnerships and Education.

USA Football is giving leagues flexibility in the implementation of rookie tackle – with varied field lengths between 40 and 60 yards and team sizes that consist of between six and eight players on the field at a time. The coach-to-player ratio will also be shifted so more coaches will be available to provide feedback to players.

The right-age, right-stage concept stems from the American Development Model (ADM). The ADM was created by the United States Olympic Committee along with several major sports organizations and is based on research from youth development and pediatric sports medicine. The goal of the ADM is to promote skill development, physical activity, healthy lifestyles and a positive experience in sports that allow athletes to maximize their full potential and remain active in sports for life.

“What’s great about the pilot program is that leagues across the country could be very different,” Inzerello said. “Some will be smaller, some bigger, some rural, some urban. We’ll learn a lot this year.”


The Goals of Rookie Tackle

  • Provide a bridge game between flag football and 11-player, full-field tackle football.
  • Focus on the fun of the sport and skill development.
  • Encourage a field size appropriately scaled to the age and skill level of a youth football player.
  • Participants learn multiple positions and skills; position-specialization is not introduced at this level.
  • Ensure players enjoy meaningful playing time and opportunities for improvement and success.
  • Encourage a fast-paced game to allow for more plays and greater activity.
  • Allow leagues and clubs to maximize field space by playing two games at the same time on one regulation-sized football field. Simultaneous games at one site may also lead to greater community-building, uniting more families and fans to a field at one time.
  • Limit roster sizes to provide a greater coach to player ratio, which will lead to more individualized coaching attention during practice and on game day for greater skill development.
  • Allow leagues and clubs with limited registered players to enjoy a full fall season with smaller team rosters.