Awareness and concern for youth football player safety has never been higher.
The St. Louis Rams and USA Football are continuing their efforts to improve the way the sport is played at the youngest levels and create a better, safer game for all the sport’s participants.
USA Football, the official youth football development partner of the Rams and the NFL, is at the forefront of making the game safer for youth leagues across the country.
On Feb. 16, youth football commissioners from throughout the St. Louis area gathered at the USA Football Eastern Missouri Youth Leadership Forum, hosted by the Rams and held in the team’s practice facility, the Russell Training Center.
League leaders shared best practices and innovations to improve player safety at the grassroots level of America’s favorite sport.
USA Football Great Lakes Regional Manager Mike Cuzzone led the discussion on several aspects of youth football, including concussion recognition and response, coaching education, equipment fitting and tackling technique.
These issues form the pillars of USA Football’s Heads Up Football program, a new comprehensive approach to improving player safety that is now available for youth leagues throughout the country for 2013.
“We are going to implement Heads Up Football immediately as the safety of our participants and our sport is our No. 1 priority,” said Mike Newbanks of the Washington (Mo.) Little League Football and 4-Rivers Youth Football League organizations.
Newbanks said it was good to see commissioners come together in a collegial atmosphere, showing the people from different backgrounds can work together on this important goal.
“I always enjoy making contact with other local administrators and discussing how we all run our programs and deal with particular issues. The camaraderie and brotherhood is a highlight,” he said.
Michael Radford is commissioner of the newly created Champion Football League in Springfield, Mo. He attended the forum to learn about the Heads Up Football program and receive guidance for his start-up group.
“We gleaned a lot of good information from the other leagues and coaches,” Radford said. “We left the forum feeling more confident about our league. We saw that we were on the right track in developing a strong youth program for our area.”
By sharing ideas, attendees left with insights to take back home and implement in their local leagues.
“This is my third or fourth year, so I use it as a means to help other people,” said Jeff Napier, president of the Warrenton (Mo.) Warriors of the Gateway Football League. “I’ve gotten my goals and directions down, but it never hurts to sit down with a group of guys and hear the same thing or maybe a new idea.”
Napier said the forum promotes unity across all levels of the sport. The partnership between USA Football, the NFL and youth football leagues allows player safety to stand forward as a common purpose for everyone involved in the sport, no matter the size of the organization.
“It’s always beneficial to get together with these guys,” Napier said. “It shows the relationship between the NFL and youth leagues and shows that you’re never too small to be involved.”