Limited Contact TackleBar Football Reduces Injuries While Maintaining Football Fundamentals, Resulting in Increased Long-Term Participation in Football.
TackleBar is the proven solution to grow football participation in the twenty-first century. Backed by rigorous science including published research studies, TackleBar provides a limited contact alternative to full tackle football. TackleBar allows players to continue to develop football fundamentals so that when players transition to full contact, they have the skills necessary to compete. TackleBar is the preferred limited contact game in USA Football’s new Football Development Model (FDM). The FDM provides game options from no contact (flag), limited contact (TackleBar), to full contact (tackle).
Declining Participation in Football
Tackle football has experienced a decline in participation over the last two decades.1 This decline resulted in part because of the perceived risk of head contact resulting in concussions. As such, parents have become increasingly hesitant to enroll their children in tackle football.
It is becoming more common for a child to play flag football as their introduction to football, but many are not continuing on to play tackle football. This results in a decrease in tackle football participation rates. Many associations attempt to address this decline by extending flag football into traditional tackle football years, but for many reasons this does not stop the decline.
While a good entry point for many players, flag football does not fit athletes of all sizes and types like the full padded game, which enables line play, blocking, and increased number of players/positions on the field per side. Additionally, since flag football is played without football equipment, some studies have even shown overall injury rates higher in flag football compared to tackle football.2,3. Many coaches feel players don’t transition well from flag to tackle. They also express concern that flag football is teaching players poor technique. On offense this can be observed when ball carriers perform non-football moves such as excessive spinning or running backwards to shield their flags from opponents. On defense, removing a flag encourages players to reach at the ball carrier with their head down, despite the well-known safety emphasis of always keeping your head up.
Parental concerns around increased injuries and player protection is resulting in less kids playing youth and high school football. The ideal solution is one that addresses parents’ concerns while keeping younger players in the sport to learn and experience the game.
TackleBar: Full Equipment, Limited Contact Football
TackleBar offers a solution that satisfies parents’ concerns while supporting coaches and associations’ goals to have competitive “real” football games and experiences that develop players both as athletes as well as individuals. TackleBar, established in 2015 in response to concerns of parents, coaches, and associations, offers a limited contact alternative to tackle football while maintaining essentially all the same fundamentals and broad opportunities for athletes.
Figure 1: TackleBar Participants Per Year
The TackleBar system is an additional piece of equipment added to players wearing a full accompaniment of standard football protective equipment (helmet, shoulder pads, mouthguard, and leg padding). The TackleBar harness is strapped on around a player’s torso. It contains two removable foam bars affixed to the player’s lower back (Figure 2).
Figure 2: TackleBar Harness and Example of “Wrap and Rip” Tackle Technique.
Rules of TackleBar
TackleBar is played under normal tackle football rules. The only change in rules is that rather than requiring a player be brought to the ground to end a play, a defensive player needs to remove one of the yellow bars from the ball carrier’s TackleBar harness and hold the bar in the air to signal to the referee. Players are also considered down if on their own, or with incidental contact, they make contact with the ground. If a defensive player intentionally tackles a player to the ground, a penalty is assessed.
Guidance on implementing TackleBar can be found on the TackleBar website.4
Science Behind TackleBar
To understand the impact of TackleBar on reducing injuries, researchers conducted a study to compare the incidence of injuries in TackleBar compared to tackle and flag football.
The study was conducted during the 2018 football season. The study included 56 football teams from 3 Midwest states, with teams ranging from 3rd through 8th grade. The study evaluated the rate of injury per athletic exposure (each time a player attended either a practice or game counted as one “athletic exposure”).
Figure 3: Overall Injury Rates per 1,000 AEs by Type of Football
The study found that TackleBar had 0.31 injuries per 1,000 athletic exposures (“AE”). This is significantly less than the 2.6 injuries per 1,000 AEs in tackle football and 5.77 injuries per 1,000 AEs in flag football.7
Even more significantly, there were no reported concussions in the study. Tackle and flag football had 0.68 and 1.33 concussions per 1,000 AEs, respectively. 5
This large multi-state study of almost 1,000 athletes shows that the limited contact afforded by TackleBar not only better emulates the fundamentals of football, all while better protecting the players.
Minnesota was one of the first states to implement TackleBar into association football programs. Since 2016, associations that have implemented TackleBar have seen double-digit growth and have reported that TackleBar has grown their tackle football program by keeping more kids playing football. St. Agnes is an example of how TackleBar can turnaround declining football programs.
St. Agnes is a catholic parochial school in St. Paul, Minnesota. The school had been struggling with enrollment in its high school football program.
St. Agnes became an early adopter of TackleBar, implementing the limited contact game in 2016. At that time, their JV/Varsity team had 27 players. They have since rebuilt their football program by developing a 5-8 grade TackleBar program that serves as a feeder program for its high school football team. Kids are sticking with football into high school. After four years of 5-8 grade TackleBar, their 2020 JV/Varsity team has over doubled to 62 players since 2016 and played in back-to-back section championship the last 2 seasons.
A survey of TackleBar players’ parents found that 84% felt that TackleBar leads to less injuries than tackle football, and 76% found that the gameplay was identical to a “real” (i.e. tackle) football experience. As one parent put it, “I like the transition from flag to TackleBar and then to regular football–from no contact, to some contact, to full contact.”
TackleBar provides a limited contact alternative to tackle football and can serve as an important bridge between flag football and tackle football. TackleBar allows a broad range of players and athletes to develop important football skills in a lower risk environment that closely mimics the traditional game.
TackleBar Nationwide Adoption
TackleBar has partnered with Riddell and USA Football and is now being played 30 states.
Figure 4: Associations Using TackleBar
- Outdoor Industry Association. Outdoor participation report. Available at: https://outdoorindustry.org/resource/2018-outdoor-participation- report/
- Peterson AR, Kruse AJ, Meester SM, et al. Youth football inju- ries: a prospective cohort. Orthop J Sports Med. 2017;5(2).
- Lynall RC, Lempke LB, Johnson RS, et al. A comparison of youth flag and tackle football head impact biometrics [published online January 18, 2019]. J Neurotrauma. doi:10.1089/neu.2018.6236.
- Toninato J, Healy T, Samadani U, Christianson E. Injury Rate in TackleBar Football. Orthop J Sports Med. 2019;7(10):2325967119874065. Published 2019 Oct 9. doi:10.1177/2325967119874065