A study released Monday indicates that football grew faster among youths than nearly every other sport in 2015.
Ironically, the survey was released the same day an NFL executive confirmed a link between football and the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.
“You’re seeing greater physical literacy in better youth football programs — programs that embrace coaching education and teach the sport smarter and safer,” Sports & Fitness Industry Association President and CEO Tom Cove said in a statement released by USA Football, the sport’s national governing body.
“In football and other sports, it will be interesting to learn if participation keeps rising as player safety continues to increase and the trend of higher standards in coaching education becomes the norm.”
The survey culled data from 30,000 kids aged 6-18 increases were seen in both flag and tackle football, though the former has grown far more rapidly. The data showed flag football participation had the biggest increase (8.7 percent) from 2014 to 2015 among children ages 6 to 14. That’s about 120,000 more players. Those who played tackle football in the same age group increased by 1.9 percent, or about 21,000 players, more than any sport other than baseball, which had an increase of 3.3 percent.
For its part, USA Football attributes the rise in participation to better health and safety standards and awareness in the game.
“Football participation increases, even modest increases, may signal that medically endorsed programs, including our Heads Up Football program and practice guidelines, are making a positive difference,” USA Football CEO Scott Hallenbeck told the Associated Press. “It’s clear that coaching education — including concussion recognition and response, heat preparedness and sudden cardiac protocols — is improving and driving behavior change. It’s too early to tell if the latest participation increases are a trend.”
Chris Nowinski, the co-Founder and executive Director of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, suggested on Twitter that the growth among flag football over tackle is an indication that parents are more cognizant of the potential injuries in tackle football.
The foundation has advocated that kids should not play tackle football until age 14.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.