(Story courtesy of USAFootball.com.)
As awareness of and concern for youth football safety continues to grow, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and USA Football are working together to change the culture of the sport and develop a safer, smarter way to play.
On Feb. 23, youth football commissioners from throughout the region gathered at the USA Football West Florida Youth Leadership Forum to discuss best practices and new ideas to improve player safety at the sport's grassroots level. The event, which was held at One Buccaneer Place, was conducted in conjunction with USA Football, the official youth football development partner of the NFL.
Tito Santiago, coaching director of the West Boynton Football League, attended the forum to find a safe, uniform approach to coaching.
"Last year was my first year on the board for my organization, and the main complaint from parents was the lack of coaching knowledge," said Santiago. "They complained that tackling was taught differently depending on who was coaching, so I started looking at USA Football and was invited to the forum. It offered the whole package: online education, heads-up tackling and more."
USA Football regional manager Ed Passino encouraged group discussion within the forum and offered assistance with several important aspects of youth football, including concussion recognition and response, coaching education, equipment fitting and tackling technique. These issues form the basis of USA Football's new "Heads Up Football" program, a comprehensive approach to improving player safety that is now available for youth leagues for the 2013 season.
Heather Harker, president of the North Manatee Storm in Palmetto, was impressed with the new initiative.
"I am very excited about installing this new way of playing the game to keep the kids as safe as possible," said Harker. "I brought home a lot of the details to our board meeting, and now my entire organization is looking forward to incorporating Heads Up Football."
Harker found value in the friendly, open discussion between colleagues and feels the event promoted unity between all Florida youth football leagues.
"This was a great outlet for all the different programs … to work toward the same goal – a successful youth football program that helps keep kids off the streets and guides them to learning about teamwork and discipline," she said. "I was amazed and honored that I was able to offer so many possible solutions to help other youth football programs move in the right direction."
Santiago said USA Football provides youth football leagues with valuable information and a safe approach that sets it apart from other football programs.
"There are two other leagues near us, but we have something different to offer," he said. "What differentiates us is Heads Up Football."