I am often asked my opinion on things that involve football. The questions range from how to find which player position best suits a child to who I think will win the Super Bowl, and pretty much everything in between. I have many thoughts on the game, on coaching, and on improving performance, so I am starting Passing Thoughts to share some of those thoughts. I welcome your comments and conversation. –KR

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Heads Up: Coaching for Change

American Football Monthly recently ran an article entitled Safety First--Culture Shift: Changing the culture of football to reduce violent injuries. You can read it here. It is an excellent and timely reminder about the improved safety efforts being made at the highest levels of the sport. We are seeing a shift in football culture to be more about preventing injuries than just treating them.  Whether we are parents, coaches, fans, or athletes, we all bear responsibility to do what we can to reduce the risk of serious injuries to our players.

Changing the culture of football requires change at every level. As a result, the NFL has partnered with USA Football to place extra emphasis on the importance of teaching fundamentals to young athletes and concussion awareness to coaches through their Heads Up Football Program. USA Football is training coaches nationwide how to teach kids proper tackling technique and fundamentals, and they are working with the NFL to ensure that kids see and recognize those proper techniques and fundamentals when they watch their favorite NFL athletes. It is a comprehensive plan to emphasize proper form and safer play at every level of the sport, starting with our youngest athletes. They released this tackling video last fall to demonstrate the Heads Up Tackling technique:

The coaches at Riggs Premier Football stand solidly behind the efforts of Heads Up Football. The tackling techniques are intuitive and well explained, and kids learn fundamentals that will make them better overall players and reduce their risk of serious head injuries. Our coaching staff discussed what we could do to help promote changing the culture of football in our region, and we came up with several responses:

1) Coach Siegfried and I went through the certification process with USA Football to ensure that Riggs Premier Football’s instruction is in line with USA Football’s recommendations;

2) We are partnering with SD Junior Football to offer their summer camps, and for the first time in program history, the camps will be full pads. That will give our coaches the opportunity to do focused training for young athletes in proper tackling technique and fundamentals;

3) We are assisting SD Junior Football with their culture change of requiring all coaches to be USA Football certified. I, and several of my staff, will serve as Player Safety Coaches for the region and assist in training and certifying Junior Football coaches;

4) We launched our Think Football program with a full series of camps, clinics, and tournaments for athletes of all ages during Summer, 2013. Through this range of offerings, athletes can learn and develop proper fundamentals at every position, participate in a focused tackling clinic, or participate in camp or tournament style settings which promote safe play along with the competitive atmosphere. With Think Football, we are focused on athletic development, mental aspects of the game, and gaining understanding of how to improve individual and team performance. No matter which events athletes choose from this program, they are guaranteed careful emphasis on fundamentals and technique. We believe that is an essential component of teaching the sport to promote the changing culture.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been speaking around the country about the efforts to develop a safer game for players. In a speech to the University of North Carolina last month
Goodell said, “There is a national conversation taking place about football. We welcome it. That’s how we approach our jobs every day: Looking at changes to the game not as something to be feared, but as something we need to do as if the future of the game relies on it. Because it does. The risk of injury in football is well known, but throughout history, football has evolved and become safer and better.” 

I agree with Commissioner Goodell that there is no way to completely eliminate the risks of injury in such a physical sport, but improving player knowledge and increasing concussion awareness will help reduce the risks without being detrimental to the sport. Riggs Premier Football is proud to be part of that changing culture in South Dakota.

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