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Community Conversation: USA Football

What programs are offered by USA Football?
"USA Football's Heads Up Football program is a comprehensive way to teach and play the sport in a better and safer way, according to leading medical organizations. Heads Up Football is comprised of medically approved protocols that teach concussion awareness and recognition, heat preparedness and hydration, proper tackling and blocking fundamentals, sudden cardiac arrest protocols and equipment fitting. More than 5,500 youth leagues and nearly 1,000 high schools in 2014 registered for the program, reaching nearly 1 million young athletes. Supported by more than three dozen medical and football organizations, Heads Up Football continues to raise the bar on player health and safety as well as the sport's fun fitness and social benefits.

More than 250,000 children ages 5-17 enjoy the excitement of NFL FLAG powered by USA Football, which offers young athletes the chance to learn many of the game's skills while competing in a limited-contact environment. All NFL FLAG coaches and parents receive free USA Football memberships, which include access to playbooks, practice planners, a drills library and original blog content to help create lasting memories in their youngsters' football experience.

USA Football also manages the NFL Punt, Pass & Kick program, the nation's largest grassroots sports skills competition spanning more than 2,500 communities and nearly 200,000 boys and girls ages 6 to 15 in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

USA Football's FUNdamentals program incorporates a series of drills to teach passing, catching and running skills in a non-contact setting. All drills are based on USA Football's Player Progression Development Model, ensuring children learn in an age-appropriate manner based on their cognitive and physical maturity.

USA Football's All-Fundamentals Team honors 26 NFL players each season – 11 offense, 11 defense and four special teams – who exhibit exemplary football techniques for young players to emulate, recognizing NFL players who employ proper technique, particularly when blocking and tackling, which fosters better on-field performance and advances player safety.

Each year, USA Football distributes more than $1 million in equipment grants through a donation from the NFL Foundation. All youth leagues, elementary schools, middle schools and high schools are eligible to receive a grant toward the purchase of new football equipment. Since 2008, USA Football has awarded more than $7 million in equipment grants.

Why is it so important to have an organization like USA Football setting the standards and best practices for youth and high school football?
"By helping coaches instill the sport's fundamentals at the youth and high school levels, USA Football, in partnership with leaders in medicine, sets standards rooted in the best available science to change behavior for the better. These important standards are found in our Heads Up Football program as well as other resources we offer. Through USA Football's National Practice Guidelines for Youth Tackle Football, there are now defined levels of contact and a set 30-minute time limit on full contact with each practice session. Endorsed by leading medical organizations, the guidelines also provide youth football organizations with heat acclimatization procedures set forth by the Korey Stringer Institute."

How does the work USA Football does at the youth level impact player safety at the professional level in the NFL?
"By teaching proper fundamentals at the youth and high school level, USA Football helps coaches develop players' skills at an important time of their development, which will carry over throughout their time in the sport. By engaging with parents, USA Football also helps build a more informed football community, with correct technique and properly addressed health and safety topics. This sets a baseline of knowledge for all who love to play the sport, coach it or are parents of young players."

Some people think USA Football solely focuses on Heads Up Tackling, but what are the other key components to USA Football safety and programming?
"Heads Up Football is a comprehensive health and safety initiative that also includes concussion awareness and recognition, heat preparedness and hydration, proper blocking fundamentals, sudden cardiac arrest protocols and equipment fitting. All of these components are important. USA Football supports these all-sport relevant topics – as well as tackling – through online coaching education, instructional videos, practice planners, a drills library and blogs."

What are some misconceptions about the safety of youth and high school football?
"Though Heads Up Football focuses on the youth and high school levels, USA Football works with all levels of the sport to advance player safety. The sport that is being played today is not your father's football. Gone are the days where coaches restricted water or scrimmaged at full speed for an entire practice.

For the past three years, USA Football has commissioned research by The Datalys Center for Sports Injury Research and Prevention to determine the effectiveness of our Heads Up Football program. In 2014, Datalys compared Heads Up Football leagues vs. non-Heads Up Football leagues and the data is encouraging. Compared to non-Heads Up Football leagues, leagues that adopted Heads Up Football had a 76 percent reduction in injuries. Concussion rates in Heads Up Football saw a 34 percent reduction in practices and a 29 percent reduction during games.

Overall, more than 90 percent of youth players in a Heads Up Football league did not sustain an injury in practice or a game in 2014. This is only one year of research, and we are committed to commission future studies for the good of young athletes. The early findings are encouraging and more needs to be done. What we have learned to date underscores that education changes behavior."

What role can coaches play in increasing the safety of youth and high school football?"Coaches are educators, and they set expectations for their athletes. A coach who understands practice planning and how to teach proper technique will create a safer environment in which young athletes can learn the sport. Coaches who can teach skills in steps, or in a progressive manner, allow their players to grow in confidence and ability. They give their players the foundation they need to repeat success on the practice field and take it into a game."

What role can parents play in increasing the safety of youth and high school football?
"Parents are vital to the process. League and school Player Safety Coaches – individuals who are trained by USA Football to teach Heads Up Football within their organizations – hold a coach training clinic and a parents' clinic where the components of Heads Up Football are shared.

Moms and dads spend a lot more time with their children than coaches do. Regardless of what sport their children may play, by recognizing concussion signs and symptoms, they can react to what they see in their children and take them to an appropriate medical professional. By learning proper equipment fitting, parents can check helmet and shoulder pad sizes in the preseason and throughout the season. If a family buys a helmet on their own, it's important that it fits correctly. If a young athlete grows or gets a haircut, that can affect sizing. Parents are informed of examples like these through our Heads Up Football program and other USA Football programs and resources."

How does USA Football work with the NFL and Denver Broncos?
"USA Football is the official youth development partner of the NFL, the Broncos and the league's other 31 teams. We also work with college football conferences and state high school athletic associations. USA Football partners with the Broncos on a number of programs, including Player Safety Coaching Clinics, Moms Clinics, Protection Tour stops and NFL Punt, Pass & Kick. The Broncos are a valued USA Football partner.

Also, through the USA Football All-Fundamentals Team, USA Football has recognized Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning each of the last two seasons as the team's offensive captain."

Why is it so important for USA Football and NFL teams to address these issues together?
"The health and well-being of every player is USA Football's No. 1 priority. Millions of young athletes enjoy the fun and excitement that flag and tackle football provide, and it is important for them, their coaches and their parents to understand how to create the safest possible environment in which learn the sport. As with all physical activities, they also must know that injuries occur and it is important for players to be correctly treated and recovered before returning to the field.

The Broncos and the NFL set an example for younger athletes to follow. By putting a priority on proper play and injury treatment, children and teenagers can see the athletes they watch on Sundays play the sport at its highest level but still adhere to the same basic tenants that they follow on Friday nights or Saturday afternoons – tackle and block with your head up, follow established protocols and when it doubt, sit them out."

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