Is it Safe for Seven Year Olds to Play Football?


Football is a highly popular sport, especially if you are a seven year old boy. My dad calls football the “national religion of America,” and everybody wants to participate. So how old should you be in order to safely participate in this religion?

Is it safe for seven-year-olds to play football? In a nutshell, it is safe for a seven year old child to play football. There are safety regulations, rules, and equipment that are implemented to ensure the safety of the players.

There are factors to consider, like which kind of football to play, the physical and mental development of the brain, and what costs and benefits could be the result of enrolling your child in football at age seven.

Types of Football

Generally, there are two different recognized versions of football: tackle football and flag football.

Tackle football is the football you are likely the most familiar with. It includes lots of players dog-piling in an attempt to get the ball.

Flag football is a variation of tackle football that takes the tackle out of the equation and replaces it with flags worn around the hips of the players. 

Tackle Football

Tackle football is what the NFL plays. It is the football featured during the Super Bowl. The reason for Doritos and seven layer dip in every household come January. 

Tackle football takes place on the standard football field with 11 players from each team in play on the field at once. A ball is hiked, and the goal is to get it to the proper end of the field in order to score a touchdown for their team.

If you are playing offense, you are running the ball, and if you are playing defense, you are trying to tackle whoever has the ball to prevent it from moving further down the field.

Tackle Football focuses a lot more on strategy and reliance on your teammates. You can’t very well push your way through a wall of people all by yourself, so you have to learn who you can throw the ball to and when, as well as where and when you could run.

Because you are in danger of being tackled by other people, you are in danger of injury. However, when playing in any sort of official capacity (like a club, school sport, or even the NFL), there are rules and equipment that help to prevent injuries to the players. There are several committees that head this up.

Competition Committee 

This committee evaluates each season of football, including all the different injuries and the percentages that they occur. Using this data, they adjust the rules and regulations accordingly in order to prevent the same results next season.

The committee is headed up by previous NFL players, coaches, and even people from other sports and high school programs.

Player Safety Advisory Panel

This committee is in charge of the long-term rules of the NFL. While the Competition Committee makes minor adjustments and punishments based on each season, the Player Safety Advisory Panel will create completely new rules if they see a trend. Their job is make all future players safe through permanent changes and new rules.

The Player Safety Advisory Panel is only made up of previous NFL players and coaches. This is because they are only concerned about the safety of NFL players, not necessarily about how other sports do it.

Discipline for Violations of the Safety Rules and Regulations

While this is not an official committee, it still ensures that players will not go head-butting each other willy-nilly. This assigns each breach of the rules with a specific punishment. It acts as an incentive for players not to put their fellow or opposing team members at risk.

This includes disciplines for alcohol and substance abuse. You don’t want a drunk player on the field, as they could pose a threat to themselves or the other players.

This is not really all that applicable to seven year old kids, but the fact that there are official rules against it is another point of evidence to the fact that people are trying to make this sport as safe as possible.

Return to Play

If a player is injured on the field, the first thing to do is determine how dangerous the injury is. The coach has to make the decision of whether to send the player back onto the field or not.

They have to decide if the injury is bad enough to bar the player from the remainder of the game or if it was just a bruise.

With the guidelines on how and when to return the player to the field, you can be sure that the safety of the player is the first priority.

Flag Football

Flag football is much like tackle football. It has all the same rules as tackle football, except in order to stop a play, you have to pull a flag off the waist of the player holding the ball.

This “hands-off” approach to football helps with decreasing the chance of an injury. Flag football focuses a lot more on speed than strategy. If you can dodge everybody’s hands trying to grab your flags, then you’ll likely make it to the end zone. 

Where Seven-Year-Old Kids Are Concerned

So, now that you know the different kinds of football, which on, if any, should you pick for your child to start out playing?

The age of seven is what is called early-middle childhood. This is an important stage in brain development. 

Mentally, seven-year-old kids start to learn to problem solve, work with others, and they start gaining a better use of their fine and gross motor skills. Fine motor skills deal with small body movements and gross motor movements deal with large body movements. 

Physically, kids hit a growth spurt around the age of seven. This is both good and bad, as it leads to stronger muscles, but awkward movements.

Quite simply, kids don’t know exactly how to control their new height or the new length of their arms.

Their brain also experiences a growth spurt of their own. Now, they brain is roughly the same size as an adult brain. Their frontal lobe, responsible for planning and reasoning, has a big growth spurt, and their corpus callosum, responsible for connecting both sides of the brain, matures as well.

With this new mental development, seven-year-old kids are now ready for higher thinking, problem-solving, and strategy. They need to practice their newfound motor skills and get used to how big they are getting. Sports are actually a great way to accomplish all of these.

The Case for Football

Football, above all else, is a team sport. It, for lack of a better work, forces kids to work together as a team. It teaches responsibility and selflessness, which seven-year-olds are just starting to understand at this stage of their life. A team sport is a perfect way to reinforce these ideals.

The strategy of football (tackle football specifically) also helps seven-year-olds develop their reasoning skills. They have to decide when and how to pass the ball, and to whom. The combination of multiple plays has to make sense to them in order for them to properly pull it off, so they have to have a higher cognitive function.

Playing football young will set them up for playing football down the road.

There have been studies that show that if kids don’t understand tackle football by the age of 13, then they can be a danger on the field.

 

If you start your kids playing early, they will be in less danger. The youth programs that put on football games always make sure that the kids are as safe as possible, and the kids can learn the rules early.

This leads to them being more confident and knowledgeable when the stakes start being raised in high school teams.

Tackle football provides a great challenge for seven year olds. It requires a greater degree of physicality and athletic ability to excel at this sport. As seven year olds start to go through this growth spurt, they are in the perfect place to start developing their athletic abilities.

In addition to all the physical lessons that football can teach, it also teaches children at a young age that if they get knocked down, they must get back up again.

Despite all of the benefits that playing tackle football can have, there are still dangers to take into consideration. 

The Case Against Football

That same attitude of toughness that is taught through football can also be a bad thing. When it is drilled into the kids’ heads that they must be tough, then they can start keeping quiet about certain injuries that they have. This can lead to injuries that can compound on each other when they could have been prevented.

The biggest issue people have with tackle football is its propensity to create concussions. Concussions are when the brain hits the skull during an impact and bruises develop. The symptoms include:

  • Confusion
  • A Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Memory Loss
  • Reduced Function

People with concussions literally have brain damage, though minor, and this can cause serious problems if unaddressed. In tackle football, you can sustain multiple small injuries to your brain, even if none of them result in a full-blown concussion.

If you sustain a particularly bad concussion or many in a row, or even if you have many small injuries, you can develop what is called post-concussion syndrome. The symptoms could include:

  • Dizziness
  • Sleep Problems
  • Severe Headaches
  • Depression, Anxiety, or Irritability
  • Problems with Memory, Concentration, or Thinking

Post-concussion syndrome is a relatively rare thing, so it’s not something to freak out about.

While football can help seven-year-olds develop their fine and gross motor skills and become more comfortable in their bodies, it can also hurt.

Because they have to deal with a growth spurt, seven-year-olds can be quite clumsy. This can lead to injuries during play.

These injuries can be as simple as repeated bruising to a leg. However, the human body can only take so much. If the body is new, it isn’t as strong, and so injuries can be more common.

Rules for Player Safety

There is a laundry list of rules put in place to prevent injuries to the player. Each rule comes with a penalty as an incentive to not break the rules. The following are some of the most common rules for player safety:

  • Holding– a player cannot grab a player without the ball to keep him in place or tackle him. This prevents players from tackling random people.
  • Pass Interference– a defender cannot tackle a receiver to prevent them from catching a ball. This prevents players from getting violently tackled when they are focused on the ball.
  • Facemask– a player cannot grab the facemask of another. This prevents injury to the face.
  • Roughing the Passer or Kicker– players cannot run into kickers or quarterbacks after the ball has been thrown or kicked. This is to prevent injury to players when they are the most vulnerable.
  • Tripping– players cannot purposefully stick out their leg and trip other players.
  • Piling On– players cannot dog pile on top of the ball carrier after he is down.
  • Unnecessary Roughness– players cannot attack, tackle, sack, or hit another player with unnecessary violence or force.
  • Unsportsmanlike Conduct– players cannot jeer, taunt, celebrate excessively, or fake an injury (good thing this isn’t against the rules in the original football, or all of those FIFA players who fake injuries would be in big trouble).
  • Clipping Below the Waist– players cannot tackle another player below the waist from behind. This is to prevent the injury that happens when the tackler  “rolls up” onto the other player’s legs.

Safety Equipment

Along with rules of play that help prevent injury, the proper safety equipment can help keep players safe.

  • Helmet– this is a hard outer shell with soft, thick padding on the inside. This is the most important piece of equipment. It protects the players’ heads, which are constantly being battered by other players. The helmet should have a face mask and a strap with a chin cradle.
  • Pads– shoulder, thigh, hip, knee, rib, forearm, and tailbone pads are all to be worn during play. These help protect the bony parts of the body, or the parts that stick out, that are more prone to injury.
  • Athletic Supporter with Cup– this will protect against testicular injuries.
  • Uniform– players should wear the proper uniform of their team when playing. This will distinguish them from the other team and prevent any accidental tackling that they would be unprepared for.
  • Cleats– the proper shoes are important for any activity you are participating in. Cleats provide the proper grip on the turf (to protect against injuries from slipping) and proper ankle support.

What’s the Word, Doc?

Really, it is perfectly safe to enroll your seven year old child in football. Even tackle football.

Youth programs are built specifically for kids as young as five years old and tailored towards the health and safety of all the players. If nothing else, it’s in the coach’s best interest to protect the players.

He wants to have a full team of viable, skilled players, and if he allows them to get injured, then he doesn’t have that full team.

When you do enroll your child in sports, just make sure to get to know the coaches well, learn the rules of the game, watch your kid’s practices to ensure they are safe on the field, provide them with the proper equipment, and cheer louder than all of the other parents.

Alternatives to Tackle Football

If you’re still a little reticent about enrolling your seven year old child in tackle football, here are a few other team sport you can try out.

  • Flag Football– this is the same as tackle football, just without the tackling, so it is physically safer. It does still provide the same benefits of critical thinking skills, being a teammate, and developing their athletic ability.
  • Modified Tackle Football– this is just like football, but played with 14 players on the field at one time, seven from each team. With fewer people, there is less danger of dogpiling and aggressive tackles. It makes football less stressful- if that were even possible. It is mostly for youth players.
  • Soccer– soccer is an easy sport to learn and doesn’t require quite as much equipment. There is no tackling, but your kid can still learn how to maneuver a ball and be a teammate. This sport has a lot more running in it a lot less brute force. However, there are a lot of cases of concussions in the soccer world, probably almost as many as in the football world.
  • Tennis– tennis doesn’t really include a lot of running, but there is a lot of hand-eye coordination. Tennis is played in doubles or singles, so your kids won’t get to know a big team as well, but they will get to know their partner very well and possibly develop a lifelong friendship.

Related Questions

What is the best age to start playing football? Kids can start playing team sports, and football specifically, at as young as three to five years old. There are programs set up specifically to safely introduce children to the world of team sports. You can start out by playing the game with your children at home before enrolling them.

Who was the youngest football player? Okoye was a 19 year old drafted by Houston, Texas in 2007. To be an NFL player, you have to have been out of high school for three years. Besides that, the only other requirement is to be good enough for the team to want you.

What abilities are required to play football? According to topendsports.com these are the requirements to play football, in order of importance:

  • Aerobic Endurance, Speed / Quickness, Motivation & Self Confidence
  • Balance & Coordination, Reaction Time, Coping with Pressure Situations
  • Strength & Power, Analytic & Tactical Ability, Skill and Technique
  • Body Size and Composition, Flexibility, Agility

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