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Looking to enhance the experience for young football players and ultimately help increase participation, USA Football is unveiling a pilot program Wednesday in 11 leagues across the country that features fewer players, smaller fields, no special teams and no three-point stances.
The Rookie Tackle program is intended to serve as a bridge between flag football and 11-man tackle football for kids to help them learn the game and develop their skills, according to USA Football chief executive officer Scott Hallenbeck.
"Rookie Tackle is not going to replace 11-man football," Hallenbeck told USA TODAY Sports. "That is not our position. This is additive and necessary for the ongoing advancement and growth of football."
The 11 leagues reflect a geographic diversity and scope and span, from the Tualatin Valley Youth Football League in Oregon City, Ore., to Georgia Girls Tackle Football in Smyrna, Ga., to the Suffolk County PAL Football League in Yaphank, N.Y. Ten of them are youth leagues and had a relationship with USA Football through the Heads Up Football program. The 11th is the Philadelphia school district and will offer Rookie Tackle for sixth- to eighth-graders to help offset a lack of resources with equipment and field space.
USA Football says the pilot program will involve leagues with a total of 24,000 players, including those who play flag, Rookie Tackle and 11-man tackle.
Among the highlights of Rookie Tackle:
Leagues can choose to play six, seven or eight players on the field per team. Overall roster size will be decreased to encourage greater time on the field for each player. The roster size allows for smaller coach-to-player ratios. "Every youngster should have the opportunity to play meaningful time," said Nick Inzerello, USA Football's senior director of partnerships and education. "That's why they sign up."
No position specialization; players will be able to experiment at different positions.
No special teams. "We want to eliminate them and quicken the pace to get more snaps on offense and defense," Inzerello said.
Two-point stances only except for the center. The center will still snap the ball, but he cannot be covered by a defensive player and cannot be hit.
Smaller fields at 40 yards by 35 yards, scaled by size and player level. "We think it will foster more physical activity," Inzerello said. For areas where field space is an issue, two games can go simultaneously.
The plan is part of the U.S. Olympic Committee's American Development Model, which encourages kids to learn a wider range of athletic skills.
Inzerello draws the comparison to baseball, where the game goes from T-ball to coaches pitching to players pitching. The idea is to create a development pathway with a focus on "right age, right stage" -- essentially the game should match the skills of those playing it.
"We wanted to create a game that kids enjoy and ultimately help improve their skill development without losing the integrity of football," Inzerello said. "It's all football, whether it's flag, Rookie Tackle or 11 player. Let's celebrate that kids are playing football."
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