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Rules • April 4, 2019

Nation’s oldest youth football program is also eliminating kickoffs in a fourth division and introducing age-specific programs

LANGHORNE, PENNSYLVANIA (February 28, 2019) – Pop Warner Little Scholars, Inc., the nation’s longest-serving youth football organization, announced it will become the first national football program at any level to eliminate the three-point stance as it advances efforts to make the sport safer for young people.

The ban, which will be introduced in Pop Warner’s three youngest divisions this season, is aimed at changing how offensive and defensive linemen engage in contact when the ball is snapped.

Under the new rule, players in Tiny Mite (5-7 years old), Mitey Mite (7-9) and Junior Pee Wee (8-10) will not be allowed to position themselves on the offensive or defensive lines with their hand on the ground before the snap. Instead, they must either be upright or in a modified squat position with their hands on their legs.  

“We feel this change will be another major step as we work to create a safer, better football experience for young people,” said Jon Butler, executive director of Pop Warner Little Scholars. “By moving away from the three-point stance at our youngest levels we are changing how players are introduced to the sport and how they learn to play the game. We also are setting the stage for our higher levels of play to adopt the change. Because our sport has been willing to evolve over the past 150 years it is better and safer today than it ever was, while maintaining what makes it so great.”

“When making decisions like this we first look at them from a medical standpoint and examine whether the change will make the playing experience safer for our young athletes. We believe this rule does that,” said Julian Bailes, MD, chairman of the Pop Warner Medical Advisory Committee and NorthShore University Health System’s surgical director at NorthShore Neurological Institute and chair of the Department of Neurosurgery. “Eliminating the three-point stance should lessen the amount of force between linemen and we expect it will cut down on unintentional helmet contact at the line.”

Pop Warner will use this coming season to assess the new rule in the younger divisions as it considers implementing it later for the program’s higher levels.

Pop Warner also announced two additional changes for the 2019 season, which starts in September:

  • No kickoffs at the Pee Wee (9-11 year-old) level. Pop Warner’s 2016 rule banning kickoffs in its three youngest age groups will be introduced at its Pee Wee division this season. Instead of kicking the ball off following a score or to start a half it will be placed at the 35-yard line.
  • Adding alternative to Age-Weight. Pop Warner leagues may continue the current structure of divisions based on a player’s age and weight or it can now implement a division by age only. Currently, an estimated 75-80% of youth football leagues nationally abide by an age-only structure.

Over the past 10 years Pop Warner has instituted other major safety-focused changes, including: safety:

  • To teach kids how to better recognize if they or a teammate have suffered a concussion, Pop Warner is providing access to CrashCourse, an interactive concussion education program developed by TeachAids, a nonprofit education initiative, and researchers at Stanford University.
  • Pop Warner offers Rookie Tackle, a program to help kids transition from Flag Football to 11-player tackle. It is played on a smaller field with fewer players and meant to introduce the sport.
  • In 2016, Pop Warner announced contact is restricted to 25 percent of practice time.
  • Pop Warner coaches are mandated to train in USA Football’s Heads Up Football program, where safer approaches to tackling and blocking are taught.
  • In 2012, Pop Warner banned full-speed head-on, blocking or tackling drills where players lined up more than 3 yards apart.
  • In 2010, Pop Warner implemented the first youth sport concussion policy. Under the policy, any participant removed from play due to a head injury may not return to Pop Warner activities until he or she is evaluated – and receives written clearance – by a licensed medical professional trained in the evaluation and management of concussions.
  • To ensure that Pop Warner stays on the forefront of health and safety issues and any medical developments that may affect our young athletes, Pop Warner formed an independent Medical Advisory Committee in 2010. Led by neurosurgeons, researchers, pediatricians and sports medicine professionals, the committee is focused on the prevention, proper identification and treatment of concussions; hydration awareness and proper nutrition guidelines; and general health and safety issues.

Medical Studies:

J Biomech. 2011 October 13; 44(15): 2673–2678. doi:10.1016/j.jbiomech.2011.08.003.

PURPOSE: In American football, impacts to the helmet and the resulting head accelerations are the primary cause of concussion injury and potentially chronic brain injury. The purpose of this study was to quantify exposures to impacts to the head (frequency, location and magnitude) for individual collegiate football players and to investigate differences in head impact exposure by player position. A total of 314 players were enrolled at three institutions and 286,636 head impacts were recorded over three seasons.

SUMMARY: While DL, LB, and OL were found to have the lowest head impact magnitudes of all player positions, they had the greatest number of head impacts. This is in agreement with previous reports that offensive and defensive linemen sustain the most frequent head impacts (Broglio, et al., 2009; Mihalik, et al., 2007; Schnebel, et al., 2007)

Schmidt JD, Guskiewicz KM, Mihalik JP, et al. Head Impact Magnitude in American High School Football. Pediatrics. 2016;138(2):e20154231

PURPOSE: Captured and analyzed video from 13 games (n = 3888 viewable head impacts) to determine the following play aspects: quarter, impact cause, play type, closing distance, double head impact, player’s stance, player’s action, direction of gaze, athletic readiness, level of anticipation, player stationary, ball possession, receiving ball, and snapping ball. We conducted random intercepts general linear mixed models to assess the differences in head impact magnitude between play aspects (α = 0.05).

SUMMARY: Preventing head impacts caused by contact with another player may reduce head impact magnitude in high school football. Rule or coaching changes that reduce collisions after long closing distances, especially when combined with the 3-point stance or when a player is being struck in the head, should be considered.