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

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Heads Up with Kevin Kaesviharn

As South Dakota athletes prepare for their transition to Heads Up Football, I have spoken with many of the people who will be bringing that change to area athletes. The effort toward improved player safety is a joint effort between the NFL and USA Football, and I wanted to include the perspective of NFL players. I spoke with NFL Ambassador for Heads Up Football, Brian Hansen, and with Kevin Kaesviharn, another well known South Dakota athlete who enjoyed a successful NFL career. 

Kaesviharn graduated from Augustana College and went on to play in the AFL, XFL, and NFL, most notably for the Cincinnati Bengals and the New Orleans Saints. His career was affected by injuries, and he suffered a serious neck injury toward the end of his playing career. Kaesviharn played safety, which also seems to be one of the most scrutinized positions involving tackling. I asked him to share his perspective on youth football and on the current efforts to improve player safety.

How old were you when you started playing football? 
I started playing flag football around 7 yrs old and started tackle football in 9th grade.

How much work did you put in during off seasons growing up? What kinds of things did you do to train?

I didn't put a lot of time and training into football until 10th grade because I was busy playing other sports and didn't know that training would help me as much as it did at the time. I was content just being a kid. Basic strength training, speed development and agility drills were mostly what I did in high school and progressed from there.

Did you learn good fundamentals at a young age? How important is it for kids to work their fundamentals?
I learned the fundamentals of the positions I played (WR/DB) and also proper tackling. Fundamentals are essential to the development of any football player. You need a good foundation to build your skills upon and need to continue working on the fundamentals even when you think you may know everything about the game. It's the old saying "If you don't use it, you lose it." You will resort to your old ways when you get fatigued, and if you were taught good fundamentals, they will keep you safe and also help you to be successful on the field. If you have poor fundamentals and are fatigued, you put yourself at a higher risk of injury as well as not giving yourself the best chance to be successful.

You experienced serious injuries during your career, at a time when there was less emphasis on player safety. What are your thoughts on the NFL/USA Football Heads Up Football movement for kids? How will it affect the game?
I think they are bringing more awareness to the importance of proper tackling, which is good. I also think there are a lot of coaches that don't know the proper/safe way to tackle, maybe because they were never taught it as a player. As a football player, you are not always in the best position to make the "form/proper tackle" which is why injuries will always be a part of the game. However, if we can reduce the number through these educational programs, I think it is a step in the right direction.  I also feel that the NFL is feeling pressure from the public and former players about player safety, which is why they are being more proactive in this area. There is definitely a fine line when it comes to keeping the appeal of the game and the safety of the player in check by changing the rules of the game. The NFL is trying to set a positive and safe standard that will hopefully trickle down to youth football. I think the program is good for football at all levels and will help reduce injuries. My hope is that the program has staying power with good, consistent instruction.  

My coaches and I are looking forward to starting the process of teaching kids Heads Up Football as SD Junior Football Camp gets underway next week. It is not an easy or small task to change the culture of football to increase focus on player safety issues. Given our increasing knowledge on the effects of concussions, the NFL and USA Football are taking reasonable and necessary steps to promote that change. At Riggs Premier Football, we are focused on teaching proper fundamentals to improve kids' ability to play well and safely. We are proud to be part of these essential changes taking place in youth football, and we look forward to working with coaches, athletes and parents in the coming weeks!

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