Competition-review series: Gap 2 – length of games and length of season
Football Canada unveiled a series of recommendations to fill and improve upon eight gaps uncovered during a review of the competitive structure of football in Canada. The current step in the process is for the football community to review the recommendations and provide feedback.
We caught up with Football Canada technical coordinator, Aaron Geisler, a member of the competition review committee, to learn more about the proposed strategies. Over the next few weeks, we’ll break down each of the eight gaps. Today’s series looks at gap two – the number of games and length of season.
This gap focuses on optimizing games and length of season as specified in the Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) plan.
“One of the main concerns we currently have in our sport is that some athletes choose to play on two tackle teams at the same time during a season. Doing so within the same year is taxing on players and may lead to overuse or other injuries.”
“Players need time to rest and recover between games – the strategies aim to stop players from participating on two teams at the same time while also specifying a developmentally appropriate number of weeks per season.”
“Not only is this a question of player safety, but we also want to ensure that there’s a proper game to practice ratio.”
“Ensuring an adequate and age appropriate number of practices between games are key to the growth of our sport and skill development of our athletes. Practice should be fun and be used to improve the skill of its participants. We’d like to help coaches make practice just as, if not more fun than games.”
The strategy is also focused on introducing a standardized, age appropriate length of season that gradually increases in duration and intensity as players move to higher levels.
“We’ve proposed to gradually increase the number of weeks that comprise a season with developmental age in mind. What we want to avoid is burning kids out with a tackle season that’s longer than what their body’s can cope with – physically, mentally and emotionally.”
Another important part of the strategy revolves around ensuring that players receive an off-season away from tackle football competition. The single season model follows that of our neighbours to the south.
“Rarely in the U.S. do they play multiple seasons within a year. They understand the importance of the off-season which they utilize to improve – whether that be in the weight room or other conditioning, to play other sports, to work on skill development, attend camps, or participate in non-contact leagues.”
“We want to move away from playing on multiple tackle football teams, however, that doesn’t mean that players can’t also play non-contact football such as flag or touch. It’s a great away to work on key skills like running routes, one-on-one defensive coverage and throwing while staying in shape.”
The strategy also mandates that at minimum four calendar days separate games to ensure for proper rest and recovery, in addition to preparation time. The suggested length between games is six or more full days.
The final strategy of gap two tackles athlete’s introduction and progression to 12-a-side tackle football. This strategy stipulates that the first wave of players under the age of eight should enter the sport through non-contact (flag or touch) streams and progress to 6 or 9-a-side tackle football prior to taking on the 12-a-side game.
“We’d like to introduce football to kids below the age of eight through non-contact (flag and touch) streams. At that age, players are being introduced to the basics of game; its rules as well as developing skills like catching, throwing and running. Rather than adding to the complexity by introducing tackling, developmentally according to the LTAD, competition should be limited to non-contact football.”
Initially, converting football purists to modified tackle football will take some time.
“We understand that it’s a big shift for some within the football community who might not believe in 6-a-side tackle or non-contact football, but developmentally it’s what’s best for our sport. Initially, it can be tough to see merit in or see 6-a-side as real football, but it still has everything the 12-a-side game does, just with a smaller field and roster which is perfect for skill development.”
“On offence, five of the six players, including the centre are eligible to catch the ball. As an introduction to the sport, it allows for the development of a bigger skill set for each player. As an added bonus, with fewer players on a team, 6-a-side allows for more one-on-one coaching.”
The idea is for young players to develop fundamental skills early and then introduce full tackle football when developmentally appropriate.
“As a late entry sport, another wave of athletes starts playing around the high school age and this group could still go straight into 12-a-side football.”
The model has been very successful in parts of the country including Saskatchewan, Alberta as well as various rural communities across the country.
“Saskatchewan is a great example of a region that adopted modified football to promote skill development – you can see the large number of athletes that are starting to be produced by a relatively small population.”
“When these athletes transition to 12-a-side, they can directly apply the skills they’ve already developed through modified football such as route running, passing, open field tackling, defensive pursuit angles, one-on-one blocking as well as basic defensive coverage.”
“Future linemen get to essentially cross-train early in their maturation, developing key skills like agility, quick feet and experience in one-on-one line play.”
“Football is a complex sport and it’s important to learn the various parts of the game before you learn the whole. Modified football is a great vehicle to help work towards making football better in Canada.”
We welcome your feedback
For more information about how to leave feedback as well as a full list of gaps and strategies, click here.
2.A: Ban of two tackle seasons concurrently (at the same time).
Mandate: A ban on playing two tackle football seasons concurrently (at the same time) .
- Tournaments and jamborees from the national and provincial high performance programs
- Tackle and non-contact football
2.B: Schedule regulations
Mandate: When developing a schedule, a team’s games may only be played a minimum of four calendar days apart. 
● Make-up or rescheduled games (due to weather or unforeseen circumstances) may be scheduled with a minimum of two full calendar days in between. For example, if a team already plays on Monday, a make-up game could take place as early as Thursday. 
Recommendation: When developing a schedule, a team’s games should be played with six or more full calendar days between competitions.
2.C: Out-of-season tackle football games
Mandate: Only five out-of-season tackle football games can be participated in each year and they must be approved by the provincial governing bodies .
- Tournaments and jamborees from national and provincial high performance programs
2.D: Tackle football weeks in a year
Mandate: Specific number of weeks allowed each year for tackle football at each age category [2021-22] (see table below).
2.E: Gradual progression to 12-a-side football
Mandate: Gradual progression to 12-a-side tackle football .
2.F: Roster size
Mandate: Each team must have a minimum number of players on their roster to start a season and to play a game.
Recommendation: Each team must have a maximum number of players on their roster, after which they have to start thinking of other options.
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