Story at a glance
- Growing concerns about brain injury has caused high school football participation to drop dramatically.
- A Minnesota school is trying a football alternative called TackleBar, which blends flag and tackle football.
- A recent study found that TackleBar football was safer than tackle — and even flag football.
Youth participation in football is dropping amid growing concerns of brain injury. But a Minnesota high school is making football safer for its students by blending flag football with traditional tackle football. The tweaked version of the game, dubbed TackleBar football, is still a contact sport, but instead of tackling a ball carrier the defense must pull off one of two foam bars attached to a harness on each player’s lower back.
The school, Providence Academy, first started experimenting with the TackleBar harness four years ago. The idea was to preserve the physicality of football while minimizing the aspect of the game that has been shown to cause the most brain injuries: the tackle to the ground.
The school says more students are becoming football players and injuries are down. A recent study tracked the rate of injury for 1,000 9- to 14-year-old kids over a three-month season. There were no reported head injuries and just five instances of injury that required players to miss games. The results of the study suggest that TackleBar football was actually safer than flag football in addition to tackle.
The makers of TackleBar say it can serve as a transitional game for young players before making the move to tackle football. They also say TackleBar football encourages skills that will translate to tackle football, to grab the foam handles, a defensive player must still “wrap up” the ball carrier.
When Tim Healy, TackleBar’s CEO, is pitching the game to new schools and leagues, the coaches are often the biggest source of resistance, he told the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal. But the company has partnered with the big-name football equipment brand Riddell, which Healy expects to enhance his company’s distribution. The company hopes to see TackleBar football spread to all 50 states in the next two years.