Former Steelers Jason Gildon and Jeff Hartings are serving as Heads Up Football Ambassadors for USA Football, teaching proper technique and safety to youth football coaches and players in the Pittsburgh region. Over 900 youth football leagues in the United States, which represents more than 200,000 players, will be taking part in the program for the 2013 season.
Heads Up Football is a program started by USA Football to ensure a positive youth football experience, but more importantly to promote player safety through the premise of not using your head for tackling in any situation.
"If you look at the way the game has evolved, it's so much different than when I played," said Gildon, a linebacker with the team from 1994-2003. "It's great to be able to go back and start the kids off right at this age and bring them up to where they will progress in the sport with a solid foundation.
"We are able to go back with our experience and show the youth that we not only care about them, but there is a right way and a wrong way to play football."
Gildon will be working with the Hopewell Midget Youth Football League, while Hartings will be aiding the North Shore Stallions. Gildon, a father of four boys ages 4-17, will share the same message he does at home, including with his son Jason, a junior football player at North Allegheny High School.
"You have to talk to your own kids about it," said Gildon. "It's a physical game, it's demanding mentally and physically. You have to stress the importance of being safe, technique sound. Once they get those things down it's easier for them to enjoy the game and have fun."
Coaches in the participating leagues will receive full training in Heads Up Football prior to the start of the 2013 season, and must complete USA Football's accredited Level 1 Coaching Certification Course.
"Right now with programs like Heads Up Football there is an effort to keep it safe," said Gildon. "You are going to have kids want to play without the fear of I am not big enough, or it's too dangerous. We are there to stress it's safe to play as long as you learn the proper technique and fundamentals of the game."
Heads Up Football is comprised of the following five primary elements:
Heads Up Tackling
- USA Football's Heads Up Tackling technique, endorsed by medical and football experts, teaches players to keep their heads up and out of the line of contact.
- All coaches within a youth program are trained to teach the game's fundamentals by completing USA Football's nationally accredited Level 1 Coaching Certification Course.
Concussion recognition and response
- Coaches learn and are assessed on CDC concussion recognition and response through USA Football's Level 1 Coaching Certification Course.
- Coaches, parents and players are taught concussion-related protocols at the start of the season at a leaguewide clinic and have them reinforced throughout the season.
Player Safety Coach
- Appointed by each participating Heads Up Football youth organization. This individual is trained by USA Football to implement Heads Up Football's player safety protocols, including coaching certification, and conducts safety clinics for coaches, parents and players.
- Coaches, parents and players are taught proper helmet and shoulder pad fitting.