My experience as a player, coach, and yes even a Soldier have lead me to always look at football safety tips at this time of year. Indulge me for moment as I reflect on my days as a football player.
My first helmet was solid high grade plastic with a web of leather padded straps inside–best helmet there was “back in the day”. My coaches were all certified through the local league’s certification program. And if I got hurt, or thought I was hurt my Mom was a nurse and the final moderator. Football was like a social event for parents–they were all there for practices, games, functions, everything.
But even with all of that, they didn’t know what they didn’t know. Dehydration was common, getting your bell rung (concussions) were funny, and pain was for sissies. Only broken bones were a reason to sit and that’s because they were the only thing a doctor could definitively show a parent on an xray.
Today we find ourselves in the midst of an awakening with regard to sports injuries and football is under particular scrutiny. This evolution to where we are today seems to have been spurred by the popularity of the sport and the willingness of young men and women to step up and coach. Unfortunately, we have let the certification of coaches and the involvement level of parents fall to the wayside.
The result is lots of kids playing football, lots of inexperienced, even unqualified, individuals as coaches, and a laser focus on safety. Sadly, this only exacerbates the situation. So how do we fix it? How do we make a sport that is inherently physically violent, safe; or at least safer? I have some thoughts.
Changing a Culture
First and foremost, we need to change the culture of football, and that starts at the youth level. Players have to be allowed to be open about injures. The fact is, most kids, 6-12 years old, don’t even know the difference between pain and injury. Parents and coaches need to be hyper-sensitive to this aspect of youth players and “allow” players to be injured.
Moreover, they have to create an environment where it is ok to “take a knee” when they are hurt. This goes completely against the culture of the game of football, against the mentality that we have instilled in our players. And as Parents and Coaches–we are part of the problem, the kids are learning from us all the time.
The tough part of changing this culture is time. How much time are we as parents and coaches willing to put into our kids? Are we willing to educate ourselves, our coaches, and kids to make sure they are safe; moreover, do we have the time, can we take the time? Important questions.
Notice the theme of my previous paragraph–Parents. Parents call the shots believe it or not. Parents pay the fees and the doctor bills, they provide the logistics of getting kids to and from practices and games, they help the kids through the ups and downs of the season, and they provide the ultimate piece of the game–the players.
Parents Are The Key
Let me begin here by saying YES there are thousands of coaches across this country that pick up kids for practices and games everyday. However, ultimately, the parents are the key to all things when it comes to their kids playing sports.
They pay the fees, they work out the logistics, the fundraisers, make deals with other parents when they have schedule conflicts, you name it.
But our young athletes also need parents to be knowledgeable about SAFETY. And they need to demand that coaches are uniformly certified to coach and to coach SAFELY. And they need to hold coaches accountable–if a coach is showing complete disregard for player safety, being verbally or physically abusive with players, etc–parents have to take him/her to task. Often times, the coach is simply another parent or friend of the family, and they need to know that parents are willing to take him/her to task.
This is a LOT. But in our society we are well beyond turning the safety of our kids over to someone else and we do have options. Now how do we prepare our coaches to deal with the rigors of the season.
How do you certify a coach? Do we care how many games he’s won, are we interviewing him/her beforehand, is there a committee approving them, what do they know about football, what about safety, what is important for them to know–who decides that? Ask yourself all of these questions and you will immediately come up with 100 more very quickly, I do.
Does your league have any type of certification in place at all? Any kind of training at all? Any kind of standards for your coaches? By and large, No. The last league I was associated with had NOTHING. The coaches didn’t even teach the kids how to get into a stance, it was terrible.
My career has given me the opportunity to play and coach in a variety of locations around the country. By and large, coaches are accepted for who they claim to be and ordained subject matter experts. Some communities have more established certification programs that others, but many don’t. Coaches are hard to come by, especially at the youth level, and certification programs can be expensive.
BUT, certification programs are absolutely necessary, especially given the risks. But alas, all hope is not lost. Ask a coach, ask a neighboring community what they do, establish one! Also, there are fully established, ready to launch programs out there, you just have to find them. Luckily we have the internet now as well.
I want to offer you “a solution”, the Heads Up program. NO, I don’t get anything out of promoting this particular program. But as I look at the curriculum, the people who run it, and the people who endorse it, I find it to be an outstanding path to keeping our young players safe and teaching them how to play the game right.
Heads Up offers coaching certification at all levels, including our level–Youth. Their key components:
- Concussion Recognition and Response
- Heat Preparedness and Hydration
- Sudden Cardiac Arrest
- Proper Equipment Fitting
- Shoulder Tackling
- Coaching 101
The program also includes Parent and Team Education programs and throughout they have tons of football safety tips for coaches, players, and parents. CLICK HERE to learn more about the Heads Up program.
My Final Thoughts on Safety
This is a tough subject and I know that I haven’t gone into a lot of depth, especially with the hot topic of concussions. I’ve heard recommendations from “end football” to “disregard safety”, in reality, I’m not much of an extremist so I am somewhere in the middle. Science on concussions specifically is still developing, and parents should definitely educate themselves on the risks–I don’t know enough to give you a specific recommendation.
As to the risks of injury, the best prevention I’ve seen in my career as a player and coach is proper technique and conditioning. Technique has become almost a lost art in many small communities. The Xs and Os of coaching seem to override technique. And conditioning is not as well understood as you might expect in this day and age.
Kids are our future, their safety is our responsibility. Get online, talk to coaches and players you respect, talk to other parents, make sure you have certification programs in place, get involved. Parents are the key!
If you have questions or comments about this post please leave them below.
Also, if you have other topics you’d like to hear about from me, leave them below as well.