A new study shows that flag football may actually be no safer for young athletes than tackle. In fact, injury may be more likely in flag football.
The recently-published study, by Dr. Kyle Smoot of University of Kentucky Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine and colleagues at the University of Iowa, was published in the Orthopedic Journal of Sports Medicine on Feb. 10.
The study looked at three large youth football leagues (grades 2-7) with a total of 3,794 players. Injury rates for both the tackle and flag leagues were calculated and compared. What they found was that injury was more likely to occur in youth flag football than in tackle football. But they also found that severe injuries and concussions were not significantly different between leagues.
This is odd since most people believe flag football, something considered by many to be a fun backyard pastime, to be the safer of the two sports.
One explanation may be that the equipment in the two football variants differs. In tackle football, pads and helmets are worn, but in flag football, they aren’t. Players typically wear a belt around their waist with three flags.
There are also differences in the overall way the games are played. In tackle football, there is significant contact with blocking, and with flag football, the participants run and dive for flags.
Approximately 2.8 million kids (6 – 14 years old) play football every year. And sports are the leading cause of injury among kids and adolescents. In youth football, fractures, sprains, strains and concussions are the most commonly reported. Players in grades 7 and 8 have almost twice the injury risk compared to players in grades 4 – 6. This may be due to increased playing time.
The higher injury rate in flag football may be a consideration when choosing between the two.
So all kinds of football should raise a red flag when it comes to injuries.