Youth participation in football has been declining for at least a decade.
Youth participation in football has been declining for at least a decade. - 
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You may or may not have watched the Super Bowl, but a lot of Americans did. And a lot of them have kids — kids who play football. 

Tom Thompson grew up in Kansas. Then he moved to Dallas. Now, he’s got a young son, Cooper. Tom played high school football in Kansas and said it’s different where he lives now. He said he knew it was seen almost as a religion in Texas.

“But what I didn’t realize was how early they were expected to play,” he said. When his son was 5, a neighbor, with a boy about the same age, asked him when he was going to sign Cooper up for football. “And I thought he meant flag football. But it was full, tackle football.”

Tom and his wife decided to wait. Now, Cooper is 12 and just plays soccer. Tom said all the negative stories about concussions and depression in football helped solidify their decision to keep Cooper out of the game. They’re not the only parents to do so. Youth participation in football has been on the decline for at least a decade. Scott Hallenbeck, executive director, said that’s one of the reasons USA Football is talking about changing the rules for kids. 

“If we can find that this concept leads to a safer environment, then terrific,” he said.

The proposed changes are still in the pilot phase. Among the proposals: fewer players on the field, no kickoffs, no punts and no three-point stances — where players put one hand on the ground before rushing after the quarterback.

Sarah Fields, associate dean of the college of liberal arts and sciences at the University of Colorado, Denver, said little kids in three-point stances lead with their heads, and that's bad for their necks and brains.

“The decision not to have the three-point stance, to have the players start in a more upright position, intuitively, I think could be the most helpful,” she said.

Tom Thompson said he thinks a change in the rules is a good idea, especially after watching little kids play in Texas.

“I’m not seeing the fundamentals in the play," he said. "It seems like the culture wrapped around that is still the mentality of hit as hard as you can.”

USA Football doesn’t have a timeline for when these new versions of youth football will be an option for parents. And there's no talk of changing the rules of the game in high school, college or the pros — yet.

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Follow Andy Uhler at @andy_uhler