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Youth football testing new version of sport with "rookie tackle" pilot program

Youth football to test new rules
Youth football to test "rookie tackle" version of sport 03:24

The organization that oversees youth football nationwide is testing a new version of the game for younger players.

USA Football announced Wednesday a roll-out of its "rookie tackle" pilot program to 11 leagues in nine states.

Changes include a smaller field, fewer players and some rule changes.

Football has been under pressure for years to address concerns about concussions and other issues.

This is a new way for kids to learn the game -- a transition between flag football and tackle.

It means the sport for millions of kids could be changing in the years to come. And it's not without controversy, reports CBS News' Jeff Glor.

On a field in Mentor, Ohio, two teams demonstrated "rookie tackle." 

There are no kickoffs or punts. Players start in a crouch instead of a three-point-stance. There are six to eight kids on a side instead of the usual 11. And the field is 40 yards long. 

The executive director of USA Football, Scott Hallenbeck, says the primary purpose of this new game is to increase individual attention and help players develop.

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When asked whether he wants this to be a safer version of the sport, Hallenbeck said, "We-- I mean, absolutely. Our focus is always on how do we create a better, safer environment?"

That was on Kelly Gilchrist's mind when she signed up her nine-year-old son, Tyler.

Gilchrist's son has been playing tackle football for a couple of years.

"At first we were a little bit taken back. I know there's a lot of fears in a lot of parents we know. That's why we like the seven-on-seven idea," Gilchrist said.

USA Football is targeting a transition phase because numbers show that while organized youth tackle football participation is down sharply in the last five years, the number of kids playing flag football is actually up. The sport wants to capture that momentum.

High school football coach Chuck Kyle tells parents with reservations about their kids playing the sport: "Come and take a look at this game. Come and take a look at what we're working on here."
To teach "rookie tackle," USA Football is relying on coaches like Kyle, who has won 11 high school state championships in Ohio.
"It's  America's passion. But it shouldn't turn into a gladiator sport. And what do I mean by that? People yelling, screaming and loving it, but not out there playing it. That's a shame," Kyle said.
Even as the new program is unveiled, however, it's facing criticism.
"This is their way of saying that boys of that age are not able to play the game the way it's designed," said Terry O'Neil who runs a group called Practice Like Pros. He argues all youth football should be flag football until high school.

"Youth contact football is not correct, not safe and when there's another way to play the game, why take those risks?" O'Neil said.  

On whether he's worried about the future of football, Hallenbeck said, "I think actually the work that we're doing right now is -- is going to ensure that this game is around for many generations to come."

The 11 leagues that are testing the new version of the game will do so starting this fall.

USA Football points out this doesn't change anything for players who continue to compete in the traditional 11-player tackle game.

"Rookie tackle" is meant to be that bridge between flag and full tackle.

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