Bruce Scifres, a longtime high school coach at and member of the Indiana Football Hall of Fame, implemented USA Football’s Rookie Tackle in Indianapolis’ Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) with tremendous success in 2019.
Indianapolis CYO offers a wide spectrum of youth sports, including football, across dozens of central Indiana Catholic parishes while instilling values such as sportsmanship, respect, tolerance and humility. Rookie Tackle is a bridge game between flag football and full-field tackle and is part of USA Football’s Football Development Model (FDM). Rookie Tackle employs smaller playing fields, features smaller rosters for more individualized coaching, rotates players through multiple positions to learn more skills and centers on teaching the fundamentals by removing special teams play.
The season now months over, Scifres still speaks with buoyant enthusiasm of his program’s first year of Rookie Tackle, which was played in grades 3-4.
“I even had a coach after one of the championship games come up to me and say, ‘This is genius, this whole concept,’” Scifres said. “And I'll share that in my 27 years as a head coach at the high school level, I don't know that I've ever had my name and the word ‘genius’ included in the same sentence together with too many people, so I think that makes it very obvious what people thought of the concept.”
Scifres, who led Indianapolis Roncalli High School to seven state titles, witnessed Rookie Tackle’s player development attributes this past fall, selling him on the concept.
“Coaches were very impressed and shared with me that, first of all, they liked the fact that we had smaller numbers,” Scifres said. “We played 7-on-7 and having fewer kids on the team, it gave them a chance to have more one-on-one time or small-group time in regard to teaching technique.
“They felt like they were able to better coach the kids and then also along with that, they felt like their kids were better all-around football players because of the concept of kids rotating positions between quarters.”
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Scifres faced resistance for employing Rookie Tackle rather than 11-player tackle in his youngest age division, but the doubts of coaches and parents were dispelled by season’s end.
“As the season progressed and then especially as we had our playoff and championship games, I had several coaches just come up and say that they were skeptical of it to begin with, but as they saw how well things went and how energized families, kids and their parents were about it, they just became fans of it too.”
Scifres also said that introducing Rookie Tackle increased participation in his youngest age division.
“For those who are considering Rookie Tackle, I would say if you have seen a decline in numbers with your younger kids or there seems to be somewhat declining interest, whether it's from the kids or their parents, I think that considering Rookie Tackle is a very smart thing to do,” he said.
To learn more about Rookie Tackle and the Football Development Model, visit usafootball.com/fdm.
USA Football's new model for youth football is designed to make the game safer by reducing contact and by teaching the game based on an athlete's age, the skill they are learning and game type.