10th

out of 10

Football

Boys

Football is a sport that involves extensive contact from collisions and increased risk of injury, and it requires power, hand technique, footwork, and field awareness. Recommended complementary/alternate sports for football players include wrestling and track and field.

Rankings in orange circles compare this sport with nine other sports offered for this gender before customization – meaning each of the three health categories is given an equal one-third weighting. The ranking is comprised of data collected or developed from various sources (75% of score) and expert opinion (25% of score). The healthiest sports in each of the three categories – physical activity, safety and psychosocial benefits – and in each data measurement are ranked No. 1. Note: Some sports did not have significant differences between each other in the data. Learn more about our methodology.

8th

out of 10

Physical Activity

Expert Opinion Rank: 9th Out of 10

Key Characteristics: Football’s physical activity at practices rank eighth among the 10 boys sports studied by North Carolina State University. Football has 38.9 percent vigorous activity; the 10 boys sports average 48.5 percent. Fifty-three percent of football practice time focus on skills (more than any other boys sport) compared to 10 percent on fitness.

1 North Carolina State University research observing high school athletes in North Carolina, 2017-18.

10th

out of 10

Safety

41.3

Injury Rate2

(10th out of 10)

12.1%

Injury Time/Loss3

(7th out of 10)

1.21

Catastrophic Rate4

(10th out of 10)

7.4%

Injuries Requiring Surgery5

(9th out of 10)

10.2

Concussion Rate6

(10th out of 10)

Expert Opinion Rank: 10th Out of 10

Key Characteristics: Football has the highest injury and concussion rates among all sports, regardless of gender, according to the National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study. Injuries to the head/face, ankle, knee and hand/wrist are the most common. Though still low relatively speaking, football’s catastrophic rate is more than twice as high as the next-closest boys sport (lacrosse).

2 Injury rate per 10,000 exposures, National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study, 2016-17.
3 Percentage of all injuries resulting in greater than three weeks of time loss from the sport, National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study, 2016-17.
4 Non-fatal catastrophic injury/illness rate per 100,000 exposures, National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research, 1982-2016.
5 Percentage of all injuries requiring surgery, National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study, 2016-17.
6 Concussion rate per 10,000 exposures, National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study, 2016-17.

2nd

out of 10

Psychosocial

Aspen Psychosocial Survey7

3.631

Personal Social Skills

(1st out of 10)

2.929

Cognitive Skills

(1st out of 10)

3.633

Goal-Setting

(3rd out of 10)

3.794

Initiative

(4th out of 10)

3.721

Health

(2nd out of 10)

1.501

Negative Experiences

(8th out of 10)

Substance Abuse

Cigarette Use8
18.5%

(8th out of 10)

Binge Drinking9
32.3%

(8th out of 10)

Marijuana Use10
31.2%

(9th out of 10)

Academic Achievement

Cut Class11
32%

(8th out of 10)

A/A- Student12
28.2%

(9th out of 10)

Graduate From College13
55.2%

(9th out of 10)

Psychological health14

4.27

Self-Esteem

(T-4th out of 10)

2.27

Fatalism

(T-6th out of 10)

3.73

Self-Efficacy

(8th out of 10)

2.42

Loneliness

(3rd out of 10)

1.94

Self-Derogation

(4th out of 10)

4.14

Social Support

(7th out of 10)

Expert Opinion Rank: T-2nd Out of 10

Key Characteristics: Football rates first among the 10 boys sports in the Aspen Institute/University of Texas psychosocial survey, though the gap isn’t large compared to No. 10 cross country. Developing social and cognitive skills are strengths for football. The sport’s overall Psychosocial score is lower than the Aspen/Texas survey due to poorer scores for substance abuse and academic achievement based on Women’s Sports Foundation data.

7 Aspen Institute/University of Texas psychosocial benefits survey of high school athletes nationally, 2018. Scoring ranges from 1-4, with 4 being the best except for the Negative Experiences category.

8 Percentage of high school seniors in the sport smoking cigarettes in the past 30 days. Data from Monitoring the Future Study (2010-15) and analyzed by Women’s Sports Foundation in Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters.

9 Percentage of high school seniors in the sport binge drinking alcohol in the past two weeks. Data from Monitoring the Future Study (2010-15) and analyzed by Women’s Sports Foundation in Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters.

10 Percentage of high school seniors in the sport using marijuana in the past 30 days. Data from Monitoring the Future Study (2010-15) and analyzed by Women’s Sports Foundation in Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters.

11 Percentage of high school seniors in the sport who cut class for a full day in the past month. Data from Monitoring the Future Study (2010-15) and analyzed by Women’s Sports Foundation in Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters.

12 Percentage of high school seniors in the sport who have an average grade of an A or A-. Data from Monitoring the Future Study (2010-15) and analyzed by Women’s Sports Foundation in Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters.

13 Percentage of high school seniors in the sport who expect to graduate from a four-year college. Data from Monitoring the Future Study (2010-15) and analyzed by Women’s Sports Foundation in Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters.

14 Average scores of high school seniors in the sport in psychological health report card. Data for these six categories came from Monitoring the Future Study (2010-15) and analyzed by Women’s Sports Foundation in Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters. Scoring ranges from 1-5, with 5 being the best for self-esteem, self-efficacy and social support.

Compare Tool

Select Other Boys Sports to Compare and Scroll Down

Football (Boys)
Baseball (Boys)
Basketball (Boys)
Cross Country (Boys)
Lacrosse (Boys)
Soccer (Boys)
Swimming (Boys)
Tennis (Boys)
Track and Field (Boys)
Wrestling (Boys)

Complementary Sports

Healthy Sport Index recognizes the benefits of youth engaging in more than one sport during the year, through organized or casual play. Some youth also may want or need to find alternate sports, due to interest or roster-size limitations. There are two types of benefits to sport sampling: athletic/skill development in their primary sport, and overall health. First, let’s take a look at sports that can help develop athletic/skill development.

Athletic/Skill Development

For youth whose primary sport is football, XFL Commissioner and former NFL quarterback Oliver Luck recommends the following complementary sports.

Other Recommended Sports/Activities for Skills

Cycling, Skateboarding, Tag, Tumbling

Rationale: Basketball is well-suited for skill players in football – and the skills gained don’t necessarily have to involve scoring. In basketball, playing defense, pick-and-rolls, box-outs, moving away and toward the ball, and hustling are all beneficial traits in football. Wrestling teaches leverage, which is important for interior football linemen who deal with hand-to-hand combat.

Not chasing an athletic scholarship or elite performance? Let’s now explore complementary sports that are less tailored to develop skills in this particular sport but can help build a well-rounded athlete for life.

Overall Health

For youth focused on this sport, the following are activities worth considering to build overall health and fitness. They are recommended by the Healthy Sport Index Advisory Group in consultation with the American College of Sports Medicine. Considerations include whether the primary sport is a team or individual sport, the amount of time the primary sport spends at practice on fitness, and options for sports that carry low-injury risks.

Other Recommended Sports/Activities for Health

Cycling, Dance, Golf, Gymnastic Training, Jump Rope, Martial Arts, Pilates, Rock Climbing, Triathlon

Rationale: Football is a team sport that would benefit from a companion individual sport. Football training is heavily focused on skill practice without much fitness training. The primary concern with football is contact-related injuries, meaning non-contact sports are beneficial.

Best Practices

Tips on how to make football active and safer

  1. Givens the risks of repetitive head contact, football leagues for youth could shift to flag football before age 14. Those same organizations could begin to teach fundamental blocking, tackling and hitting skills in practice at age 12, in a controlled manner that does not involve player-to-player hitting and contact.
  2. High schools could minimize non-game tackling and player collisions. Dartmouth University has won on the field by having no live tackling at practices; instead, players learn techniques and tackle a moving robotic dummy.
  3. Have a certified athletic trainer at every practice and game. If feasible, have more than one given the number of players trainers must watch. Create an emergency action plan and practice the plan.
  4. Correct player behavior when coaching without making the critique personal. Demanding accountability and trying to bring more out of players does not require humiliation.
  5. Coaches should set a time for each drill and stick with it. This will teach players time management and keep practices moving for increased physical activity. A quick whistle must be used to prevent injury, and water breaks are required to stay hydrated.

Learn More About Best Practices
Resources for Coaches (USA Football)

Concussion Resources (Concussion Legacy Foundation)

ACL Injuries in Football (Hospital for Special Surgery)

7 Reasons Why Your Football Coach Wants You to Run Track (USA Football)

Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)