Kinder, gentler youth football

Collision-oriented football has traditionally not been a sport parents eagerly endorse, certainly not for pint-size sons and daughters. The National Football League, however, may have devised a game plan to change this.

Efforts to create "a new kind of youth football" are starting to score with kids and parents, says Scott Lancaster, the league's director of youth programming. The NFL has sought ways to build skills in an age-specific, fun environment, thus avoiding some of the frustrations that lead to early dropouts.

At the entry level, the league offers NFL Ultimate for six-to-nine-year-olds. This continuous-action, no-contact game is football's version of Keep-Away or Ultimate Frisbee. There are no set plays, and boys and girls (five to a side) are constantly running, catching, and throwing.

Those who enjoy this graduate to NFL Flag, which is co-ed at ages 10 and 11, and has same-sex teams from 12 to 14. Flag-snatching takes the place of tackling.

Players who would like to go on to the contact game, but have no previous experience in it, are the target of a new Junior Player Development Program for 12-to-14-year-olds (see main story).

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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