The Future of Youth Football


Football continues to be the most popular sport in America. The 2016 NFL season averaged 17.6 million viewers per game, with more than 30 percent of adults calling pro football their favorite sport. This is double the amount of the next most popular sport, baseball. The love among American adults for the gridiron is passed onto their kids as well, with Sundays being synonymous with football in millions of households throughout the country.

Despite its enduring popularity, recent public criticism has surrounded football for its number of concussion-related injuries. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a concussion-related ailment common in football and not diagnosable until after death, was the subject of relatively recent film “Concussion.” Due to that and the earlier, prominent CTE-induced deaths of Bubba Smith and Junior Seau, football is under scrutiny.

Still, despite some safety concerns among parents, football on both the youth and professional level remains extremely popular to both watch and play. There are numerous reasons for that.

The Beautiful Accessibility and Adaptability of Football

Some sports, such as baseball, tennis, hockey, and golf, require multiple expenses to play. They also require a field or court specific to the sport. Basketball, while only needing a basketball, is dependent on a hoop and court of some sort. Among the most popular American sport, that leaves us with football.

Beyond the ball, football is flexible in that it just needs open space to play. The needed sights, like an end zone marker, can be easily substituted by a T-shirt or cone. In general, if you have one football and enough participants, a great game of touch football can be played. It has been the go-to sport in many neighborhoods among youth as a result.

If you’re going to play by the actual full-contact rules, you need six items: a helmet, cup, mouth guard, pads, gloves, and cleats.  While tackle football certainly requires a lot of safety equipment, modified version of the game like flag-football and two-hand-touch are universally known and beloved for staying true to American football while emphasizing safety and making it easy for kids to play in the backyard. Additionally, while the professional league has complex rules regarding holding, pass interference, and so on, the game’s straightforwardness in defending or trying to score makes the number of complex or convoluted rule enforcements minimal in casual youth leagues.

The combination of the NFL’s continuing popularity and football being the most accessible and arguably inexpensive sport to play are certainly factors that contribute to its enduring strength. Compare that to another hard-hitting sport, hockey, and football is way cheaper for kids to get into.

The Enduring Legacy of Pop Warner

In 1929, Pop Warner football was created by Joe Tomlin, who wanted to solve the problem of bored teenagers hurling stones into his factory in northeast Philadelphia. His response was to set up a football program. The Junior Football Conference had expanded to 16 teams by 1933. The league was eventually named after legendary coach Glenn Scobie “Pop” Warner, noted for his dedication to teaching youth football. By the 1960s, the Pop Warner league had expanded nationally, steadily becoming synonymous with youth football.

Because of Pop Warner’s lengthy history and association with a beloved football figure in Pop Warner, many children today are likely to have parents and grandparents that played in Pop Warner themselves. They are likely to minimize injury risk as a result, if their own experience was devoid of serious injury. Additionally, football equipment today is much safer. As a result, there remains many participants in Pop Warner football, due to both a passion for football and family links to Pop Warner leagues of the past.

Youth football remains super popular. Despite some injury concerns, there is enough faith in Pop Warner leagues and enhanced football equipment, in addition to firsthand experience from family members, to keep American football the most popular sport in the country. Even if participation rates dropped at double the rate, it would still take year for football to lose it’s place as the most popular youth sport. Yes, some parents have concerns about head injuries. However, all levels of football are taking steps to face those concerns, including better education on tackling and reduced full-contact in practices. As long as the core of the game remains the same, it will stay popular long into the future.

About the author: Scott Huntington