Many parents spend fall afternoons watching their kids play youth football, showing their support and cheering them on. The same parents commit their evenings to attending all of their kid's practices, making sure they are on time, that they bring their equipment and listen to what their coaches say.
But what those that govern youth football at USA Football want to be certain of, is that those same parents understand all of the safety aspects involved with the game.
That is why the Pittsburgh Steelers are hosting several events this weekend regarding youth football, beginning on Friday night with a Youth Football Clinic for Moms and Kids.
Scott Hallenbeck, Executive Director of USA Football, will share with the moms the concept of Heads Up Football, a program that puts safety first for young players, while the kids take part in a football skills clinic.
"A critical part about the Heads Up Football Campaign or the goal of creating a better, safer football game, is getting the message to the parents directly" said Hallenbeck. "We have found in conversation with many parents across the country they will tell you they don't miss a practice or game. Then you ask how many have an understanding of what the coach is teaching, what is happening on the field, how do you properly tackle and fit equipment, and they will tell you they don't have any idea of what is going on.
"The irony is you have two extremes, totally engaged parents on one side, while at the same time they don't know what is going on. It's almost a blind trust of the coaches and organization at large. If we are going to change the culture of football from the play through it and win at all cost mentality to a play safe and smart mentality, parents have to be a part of that process. The moms have to know what is being taught on the field and what the expectations should be for a certified coach, so when they are engaged they feel more comfortable."
Heads Up Football is comprised of five primary elements: heads up tackling, coaching certification, concussion recognition and response, player safety coach and equipment fitting. Hallenbeck will share the details of the program with the moms, so they understand that organizations that are a part of USA Football are taking the proper measurements to put their child's safety first.
"The experience we have had with parents that are aware of what we are trying to do with Heads Up Football has proven to be positive," said Hallenbeck. "Parents feel more comfortable, more engaged, once they are educated in what we are doing.
"I have framed the issue out of what do we know, what don't we know and what we are doing about it. What we are doing about it is Heads Up Football and we will share with them that we are teaching equipment fitting, the importance of concussion recognition and response, and ultimately heads up tackling."
The focus on youth football will continue on Saturday when the team hosts their annual Coaching Clinic at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex. The clinic provides classroom instruction and on-field teaching techniques to the youth coaches, focusing on improving player safety, proper equipment fitting and drills and schemes. Coach Mike Tomlin and conditioning coordinator Garret Giemont will address the group, as will Hallenbeck.
"I think the parents are pivotal, but you can't change the game if the coaches don't buy in," said Hallenbeck. "The coaches are priority number one in getting them to understand what we are trying to do and change the culture, ultimately accomplishing our most significant goal which is the health and safety of every single youth and high school player. We want them to have a better, safer playing experience and that starts with coaches."
Over 2000 youth football organizations are now a part of USA Football, and the numbers continue to grow proving that safety is the most important factor in the sport.
"When we work together with the NFL, the teams, colleges, and they are engaged like the Steelers, you change the mindset of the youth coaches," said Hallenbeck. "I can tell you unequivocally the mindset is changing just based on the number of organizations coming on board. It's coaches contacting us saying they believe in what we are doing and get their organization to sign on. They are at the forefront of this from a necessity standpoint and an interest in a commitment standpoint to change the culture of football."