USA Football, the sport’s national governing body and a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee, is empowering coaches and advancing safety for student-athletes. With sophisticated resources for coaches, USA Football has emerged as a leader in high school football.
When concerns surrounding football-related concussions spiked five or six years ago, much of the discussion revolved around the ways in which referees could officiate the game and penalize players to make it safer.
The leaders at USA Football created Heads Up Football, a program that teaches tackling and blocking techniques designed to reduce helmet contact while addressing all-sport-relevant topics with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concussion recognition and response; sudden cardiac arrest protocols; hydration and heat preparedness; and instruction on proper helmet and shoulder pad fitting.
“Many different groups weighed in, but nobody had really said, ‘Let’s look at the youth programs and start to address these concerns to make the sport better and advance player safety,’” said USA Football CEO Scott Hallenbeck.
USA Football started at the youth level and has started Heads Up Football High School. More than 1,100 high schools and nearly 70 percent of U.S. youth football leagues registered for Heads Up Football in 2015. Fairfax County (Va.) Public Schools, the 11th-largest school district in the country and the first school district to adopt Heads Up Football on the high school level, recorded a 16 percent decrease in football injuries and a 28 percent decrease in concussions since employing Heads Up High School Football’s curriculum and hands-on training.
Fairfax County Public Schools Student Services and Athletic Director Bill Curran oversees 25 high schools and a total of 3,300 football players.
“It has absolutely made parents more comfortable,” Curran said. “A player’s mom is going to decide if her son is going to play football. The moms worry much less with this program in place.”
Billy Elmore, head coach at West Memphis (Ark.) High, is also a master trainer for USA Football.
“I don’t think there’s any question this has made the game safer,” Elmore said.
The Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) became the first state high school association in the United States to require coach enrollment into USA Football’s Heads Up program for the benefit of its student-athletes, in 2016.
Brad Garrett, Assistant Executive Director of the OSAA, said 240 schools in the state will participate in Heads Up High School this fall, up from 55 last season.
“If our high school coaches are required to participate, we know they’ll have tremendous influence on the feeder programs,” Garrett said. “We believe those programs will filter down to middle school and youth programs.”
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USA Football will introduce the nation’s largest 7on7 scholastic-based program this spring. With all teams representing their high schools – no all-star teams – participating coaches will have the opportunity to evaluate and prepare for the upcoming season through quality competition within their state and geographic region, keep players involved and reward players for hard work in the offseason.
More than 350 high schools and nearly 11,000 players are expected to participate in 10 7on7 competitions hosted by USA Football throughout June and July. Top teams from each regional will advance to a national competition. Dates and sites for the 10 events as well as tournament registration is available atwww.usafootball.com/7on7. The USA Football 7on7 National Championship is July 14-16 in Hoover, Ala.
Chris Merritt, USA Football advocate and head coach at Miami Columbus High (Fla.), believes this 7on7 program will help give power back to high school coaches.
“Our kids are constantly tempted to play for All-Star 7on7 teams,” Merritt said. “Some of the guys working in that realm can’t get jobs with high schools because of their backgrounds. There’s no association or body to govern it. As high school coaches, this gives us an opportunity to take our teams back.”