For quite some time now, the sport of football has been scrutinized in many ways.
From the never-ending issue of head injuries, to when younger kids should actually learn to hit and play the sport as it is meant to be played.
There is a new system making its way across the country, including now in northwest Ohio, that is addressing all of the above in a positive manner.
In the introductory ranks of fifth and sixth grade, TackleBar is the newest teaching tool that shows players how to play football in a safer way.
Equipped with helmets and shoulder pads, participants also wear vests with a harness that has two foam bars across the low back.
To make a defensive play, the “tackler” must use proper form-tackling technique to wrap, then rip a bar from the harness to end the play.
With this approach, players learn to wrap without leading with the head, and use proper tackling technique instead of going for a big hit that could not only lead to injury of the ball carrier, but a defender as well.
Evergreen head football coach Aaron Schmidt is a proponent of TackleBar, and sees this as a tool that will create more interest among kids in the younger grades to begin playing the sport.
“Not only myself but many other coaches have noticed a drop in numbers in youth and high school football,” said Schmidt. “One of my goals is to increase participation and get more kids out, because football is a great sport and teaches kids good life lessons.
“The reason I looked at TackleBar is a lot of people don’t allow their kids to play because of the perceived risk of concussion. What TackleBar has done in the three years of its existence is that over 200 communities have adopted it and over 17,000 kids have participated in it.”
With TackleBar, safety is key.
“TackleBar was found to be safer at the 10-11 year-old age group than tackle football, and also safer than flag football because of the use of helmets and shoulder pads,” said Schmidt. “The main difference in TackleBar versus flag is players are taught proper tackle technique that will allow them to progress into regular football.
“Moreso, the injury rate in TackleBar Football compared to that of tennis. There have been zero concussions reported in those age groups in the three-year history and I think that makes parents feel better about introducing their kids to football.”
Schimdt also believes that the intergrity of the sport is maintained because of the use of helmets and shoulder pads in TackleBar.
“Kids are still being taught proper blocking techniques and tackling techniques as they will continue to have reinforced as they play through the years,” he said. “They also learn offensive and defensive skills with the only difference being is they wrap and rip, but do not take the ball carrier to the ground intentionally.”
The Viking coach believes in the long run that players will be better skilled and better players because of the techniques learned.
“That leading with the head to get that one big hit won’t be as important as making 20 good solid tackles with good technique,” he said.
Many high schools are using TackleBar to reinforce correct impact techniques. Schmidt says he plans on doing the same.
“I plan on using this in our non-contact drills to again make sure we are using good technique rather than have someone go through a shoulder without wrapping up,” said the Evergreen coach. “We can still teach the technique of getting into the right position and taking on a ball carrier in the right way and be fundamentally sound.”
Schmidt mentioned that a number of area schools are considering TackleBar. Furthermore, Archbold, Hilltop and North Central are on board in the use of the technique.
“We have only done flag football at the 5th and 6th grade level and our main reason for going to TackleBar is because we think it offers a natural progression from flag to eventual tackle football in middle school,” stated Archbold varsity coach David Dominique.
“Our goal with this program is to not only promote the sport of football, but mainly to protect our youngsters and keep them healthy,” he added.
The hope is that participation – in a sport that many of us save Friday night to watch in the high school ranks – again begins to increase.
Max Householder contributed to this article