Safety has become one of the top priorities in youth football and it was the topic that garnered the most attention at several youth football events the Steelers hosted this weekend.
On Friday night the team held their first ever Youth Football Clinic for Moms and Kids at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex. While the kids took part in a football skills clinic at the team's indoor practice field, the moms heard from several individuals about the progress and steps that are being taken to ensure the game is safe for their kids to play.
Among the guest speakers were Patrick Huber, the Project Lead from UPMC Concussion Program, Dave Hardesty from Riddell, Scott Hallenbeck, Executive Director of USA Football who shared the concept of Heads Up Football and Jaimee Hoke, wife of former Steelers' defensive lineman Chris Hoke. Hoke is a "football mom" who is active with everything her kids do in sports, including sons Cade and Nathan who play football.
"I don't think you can overestimate the importance of what they are doing with USA Football," said Hoke. "It's our kids. They are starting at such a young age and it can make such a difference in their safety and overall enjoyment of the sport if it's done right.
"I definitely feel more comfortable when I know their equipment is fitted just to them, the coaches are properly trained with the right techniques and teaching them how to tackle and they are aware of the signs of concussions so the kids are safe. The better the awareness, the more it puts me at ease."
Hoke has seen just about everything football brings through Chris' playing days and now with her kids. She loves that they enjoy playing sports, particularly football, and is pleased that safety continues to be at the forefront of the game.
"Having been through it with Chris and now with my boys, I want people to know everything is moving in a positive direction," said Hoke. "The awareness for parents and coaches is getting better all of the time. It's a great sport for kids to play.
"I love it because they love it so much. It's fun to watch them grow and develop and be a part of a team. Our favorite hobby is watching the kids play sports."
The Steelers continued to focus on youth football with a Coaches Clinic on Saturday, with classroom and on field sessions. In addition Hallenbeck addressed the coaches about what USA Football is doing with the Heads Up Football program.
"The Steelers have been extremely proactive," said Hallenbeck. "Coach (Mike) Tomlin preaches a similar message. To have influential coaches, influential organizations rally together with us to send a common message is important. As soon as that happens we have a greater success rate of getting youth football organizations, commissioners, coaches and parents to engage.
"Some stand on the sideline and think we have done it for a100 years this way and maybe what we are doing is fine. As soon as USA Football is able to engage teams like the Steelers it immediately changes the perspective and expectation of the youth football organization. We have seen it in the Pittsburgh area. We have a number of leagues that have come on board with Heads Up Football because the Steelers are on board."