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USA Football's National Practice Guidelines are the first comprehensive guide for youth football endorsed by leading medical organizations. They work hand-in-hand with our coach resources and the Football Development Model (FDM) while making it easy for any youth football coach to implement health and safety recommendations.
Youth practice guidelines are a natural progression of the systems already established for college and high school football. Take advantage of fully defined youth Levels of Contact, detailed implementation instructions and medically sound safety guidance.
These guidelines are inspired by USA Football's Recommendations for Youth Play, which you can read here.
High school practice guidelines were developed by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) to create effective, consistent national standards. Guidelines can be downloaded directly from NFHS or by using the link above.
About 90 percent of heat stroke cases occur during the first few days of practice, when athletes are unprepared to cope with environmental conditions and physiological demands.
Spend the first two weeks of practice gradually increasing the length and intensity of practice as well as the amount of equipment worn. Athletes should have access to fluids at all times and have periods of rest throughout a practice.
Practices interrupted by inclement weather or heat restrictions should only resume once conditions are safe. Modify work-to-rest ratio in extreme environmental conditions or reschedule to cooler parts of the day.
Note: This chart is strictly concerned with the frequency and duration of practices as it
relates to age. The limits of contact are discussed below.
Preseason practices should be limited to no more than 1 practice per day. No more than one live-action scrimmage is recommended per week. USA Football recommends that practices involving drills or activities considered to be full contact are not allowed on consecutive days. This includes the day following a game or live-action scrimmage. Full contact is defined as any drill or activity in which contact occurs at a competitive speed.
Please refer to USA Football’s Practice Time Guidelines for practice frequency.
Schedule practices and activities
Keep track of full contact limits. Share practice plan with others. No more than one full contact game or live-action scrimmage is recommended per week. In postseason, a minimum of three days should lapse between full contact games. USA Football recommends that practices involving drills or activities considered to be full contact are not allowed on consecutive days. This includes the day following a game or live-action scrimmage.
Plan when to teach or compete and when to adjust contact to promote a better experience for players.
Assign a level of contact to every drill
Plan when to teach or compete and when to adjust. Proper usage of the Levels of Contact system helps players improve their contact skills at a high level while instilling confidence. Using these tools also help reduce player fatigue, which can advance player safety.
"USA Football’s recommendations for youth play, created with credentialed leaders of diverse expertise, hold myriad near- and long-term benefits for young athletes. Taking one of our most popular physical activities for children – youth football – and boldly reimagining it in this way is leadership one would expect from a national governing body of sport. The ACSM is proud to endorse these recommendations."
Dr. NiCole Keith
American College of Sports Medicine
"It is critical that the health and safety of athletes is always the number one priority. The National Athletic Trainers’ Association endorses USA Football’s new ‘Athlete Health and Wellness Recommendations’ and applauds USA Football for its continued commitment to a smarter and safer approach to sport."
Tory Lindley, MA, ATC
National Athletic Trainers Association
"Applying the best available science to seasoned insight and relevant, real-world experiences across medicine and sporting activities like football is exciting and uncommon – this is what USA Football has done. This is what I would want my child’s youth league to teach, practice and play. And children in such leagues will have more fun, likely experience greater skill development and be more inclined to live healthy, active lifestyles as adults."
Dr. Thayne Munce
Leadership Board Member
National Youth Sports Health & Safety Institute