The Tampa Bay Buccaneers recently played host to the annual USA Football West Florida Forum at their One Buccaneer Place headquarters.
For the second straight year, youth leaders from across the region converged at the Bucs' facility to share and discuss experiences, concerns and best strategies for the benefit of young football players. USA Football is the national governing body on the youth and amateur levels for the nation's most popular sport.
Jerry Norton, president of the Junior Development League, attended the forum this year for the first time. Norton is also the commissioner for the Ponte Vedra, Fla., Junior Development League, which serves 550 players.
"For quite some time, we here in Ponte Vedra have found that USA Football is an extremely valuable resource for an organization running a football program," Norton said. "They are an extremely valuable resource for information for coaches and information for leagues."
Norton said attending the forum was a no-brainer after he learned of its existence.
This year's forum conversation focused on such topics as USA Football's new League Affiliation membership program; concussion awareness and safety; furthering unity among Florida youth leagues; and this summer's NFL/USA Football Youth Summit in Canton, Ohio.
"The Player Progression Development Model was definitely the highlight for us because part of our mission is developing players progressively as they grow," Norton said. "Since we teach every major position to every player, we want expertise on what those elements of each position should be, and the PPDM does that well.
"We also require that our coaches become USA Football members because of the valuable information it provides."
USA Football state forums unite commissioners, presidents and other youth league leaders each year to discuss best practices, learn about USA Football's latest services and resources and share experiences in youth football. As the official youth development partner of the NFL, the NFL Players Association, the Buccaneers and the NFL's other 31 teams, USA Football works with the team to promote the sport at the grassroots level.
"Learning about all the new benefits USA Football's website relaunch provides was great," Norton said. "Great benefits come from technology. League insurance, the team websites, the fundraising possibilities, the sale of merchandise — those are all new and exciting things that we hope to be able to take advantage of."
Wayne Vance of the Spring Hill Athletic Association and the Spring Hill Bulls said the feedback he received – hearing about the struggles and successes of men and women in similar situations – makes the sport better for everyone.
"After all, the kids learning and having fun is what it's all about," Vance said. "To an attendee, I believe they all share that sentiment."
Vance plans to utilize the resources at usafootball.com, including a customized store where he can upload his team's logo and sell apparel shipped directly to the purchaser. It is a no-hassle, no-inventory option for groups who earn a percentage of each purchase. Vance's team will earn a 10-percent commission on every sale of an item bearing its logo.
"I appreciate the Tampa Bay Buccaneers bringing us to their facility and making us welcome," Vance said. "Many people don't get to see the NFL teams giving back to the communities – their time, resources and money to make these events happen."