USA Football Defines and Set Limits on Full Contact

Sports Industry News and Analysis

USA Football Defines and Set Limits on Full Contact

(Editor’s Note: What follows is an article published yesterday by USA Football about its new youth tackle football practice guidelines)

New youth tackle football practice guidelines from USA Football have been endorsed by leading medical organizations and include clear definitions of contact and time limits on player-to-player full contact.

USA Football’s National Practice Guidelines for Youth Tackle Football define levels of contact and set a 30-minute time limit on full contact within a practice session.5011227045_4df2341d87

The guidelines also provide youth football organizations with heat acclimatization procedures set forth by the Korey Stringer Institute and a recommendation on the number of practices per week (maximum of four during preseason and three during regular season). Two-a-day practices are prohibited at any time during the preseason or regular season. In addition, athletes are permitted to drink fluids at any time during a practice beyond designated breaks. USA Football’s youth practice guidelines are freely accessible to all youth football organizations at

USA Football’s youth practice guidelines are the first to earn the endorsement of national and international medical organizations: the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) and the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM). These three leaders in medicine are composed of more than 85,000 physicians, scientists, researchers, educators, sports medicine specialists and certified athletic trainers across 90 countries.

USA Football’s Levels of Contact focus on varying levels of resistance throughout practices to build players’ confidence, further strengthen on-field safety and mitigate physical and mental exhaustion.

USA Football defines full contact as any drill conducted at Thud or Live Action within its Levels of Contact. USA Football’s Levels of Contact also are employed in high school football practice guidelines created by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) in 2014.

The varying levels of contact – Air, Bags, Control, Thud and Live Action – are used to introduce players to practice drills, which help them to master the fundamentals and increase skill development in a progressive manner.

USA Football is the national governing body of the sport and educates more high school and youth football coaches combined than any organization in the United States.

“The safety of every young athlete is a priority for the American College of Sports Medicine,” ACSM President Dr. Carol Ewing Garber said. “USA Football’s practice guidelines for youth tackle football, created in collaboration with medical leaders, marks a watershed moment for youth sports. Identifying guidelines for heat acclimatization and defining levels of contact with time limits are critical. Not only are young athletes safer by learning the fundamentals in a smarter way, but monitoring levels of contact and heat acclimatization also advances their well-being. This is leadership one would expect from a national governing body of sport, and ACSM endorses these guidelines.”

“NATA has been a proud supporter of the USA Football Heads Up Football program and its specific focus on concussion awareness, Heads Up Tackling, equipment fitting and coaches certification,” NATA President Jim Thornton said. “USA Football’s new practice guidelines, as well as its Heads Up Football program, certainly reinforce our own safety messages and our commitment to keep young athletes as safe as possible. NATA applauds USA Football’s continued work to advance youth sports safety, particularly for the young athletes who participate in tackle football nationwide.”

“The safety of our youth in sports is vitally important,” American Medical Society for Sports Medicine President Dr. Chris Madden said. “AMSSM recognizes there is a limited amount of data available to guide proper heat acclimatization and to reduce head injuries in this young age group. We applaud USA Football for taking steps in the right direction with these guidelines, which are based on expert opinion, to help our youth stay safe during structured football practices. AMSSM is committed to ensuring the health and safety of all athletes, and our endorsement of these guidelines aligns us with USA Football in this important pursuit.”

USA Football’s Levels of Contact:

Air Players run a drill unopposed without contact.
Bags Drill is run against a bag or another soft-contact surface.
Control Drill is run at assigned speed with a predetermined “winner” assigned by the coach. Contact remains above the waist, and players stay on their feet.
Thud Drill is run at competitive speed until the moment of contact. There is no pre-determined “winner.” Contact remains above the waist, and players stay on their feet.
Live Action Drill is run in game-like conditions and is the only time that players are taken to the ground.


USA Football’s Levels of Contact guidelines are easily transferable to the field through USA Football’s practice planner, delivering more efficient practice sessions, which contribute to safer play. USA Football’s practice planner informs coaches if their practice plan is within the prescribed amount of 30 minutes of full contact with a green-light graphic or if it exceeds that amount with a red-light graphic (USA Football practice planner example below).

USA Football’s National Practice Guidelines for Youth Tackle Football were comprised with guidance from its Medical Advisory Committee, chaired by Dr. Stanley Herring, and its Football Advisory Committee, chaired by Pro Football Hall of Famer and ESPN NFL analyst Bill Polian. Herring is among the country’s leading experts in sport-related concussion and is a medical progenitor for public policy advancing head-safe play. Polian, the grandfather of youth football players, has dedicated his career to the sport and today helps lead its continued development through independent nonprofit USA Football.