Former Steelers running back Merril Hoge has shown his commitment to youth football the past five seasons as a volunteer coach with the Ft. Thomas Youth Football Program in Kentucky, where he coaches his son Beau's team.
He took that commitment one step further recently when he was named to the board of directors for USA Football, the sport's national governing body on youth and amateur levels. Hoge also will serve as a USA Football volunteer spokesperson.
"My experience with youth football and in my NFL career playing for guys like Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher, I learned all of the things that this great game can provide us," said Hoge. "It's not just fundamentals and techniques, but I can't think of a better stage to teach kids great skills for life. I thought Chuck was amazing at teaching this, skills that you use as football players and can be translated into life. All of the things I learned when I played the game, if I would have learned that when I was a little kid, football would have been a lot more fun and I would have had a lot more success. I surely would have been better."
Hoge will be featured in USA Football's certified coaching education program at www.usafootball.com, which will include concussion awareness and education, equipment fitting and hydration videos. Hoge suffered multiple concussions during his NFL career and as a result of that safety is one of the big factors he thinks youth coaches should focus on as far as prevention and treatment of injuries.
"If we are going to really change it, we have to change it at our youth level," said Hoge. "If we change it there, then we manage the injury correctly. We aren't going to eliminate it but it's about how they are cared for once the person has been traumatized.
"I start every season with a saying that football is a tough game for tough people, but it's not a dumb game and we're not stupid. Therefore we treat the game with respect and we treat the techniques with respect and injuries with respect."
In addition to coaching Hoge has also hosted a football camp in Pittsburgh and Chicago, working with youth in both cities.
"There is one thing to always think about when we are teaching our young kids, that we measure them in the yardstick of their years, not ours," said Hoge. "My son and the kids I have taught, they don't know what I know. You have to keep it in perspective, when they do something wrong, they don't know. You have to be patient and they have more fun. They don't become frustrated. They understand and develop. The look on their face, the excitement of being able to apply what you teach them creates a lot of that fun."
USA Football conducts annual events that focus on education for coaches and game officials, skill development for players and resources for youth football league commissioners.
"With USA Football we are dealing with kids and those who deal with kids and we are able to help them manage and teach kids and help them with their development of these young people, which is really critical and one thing I love about what they do," said Hoge. "At the end of the day that is how we are going to make them better."
About USA FootballUSA Football, the sport's national governing body on youth and amateur levels, hosts more than 80 football training events annually offering education for coaches and game officials, skill development for players and resources for youth football league commissioners. The independent non-profit is the official youth football development partner of the NFL Players Association, the NFL, and its 32 teams. USA Football manages U.S. national teams within the sport for international competition and provides $1 million annually in equipment grants and subsidizes youth league volunteer background checks. Endowed by the NFL and NFLPA in 2002 through the NFL Youth Football Fund, USA Football is chaired by former NFL team executive Carl Peterson.