As the governing body of the game, USA Football takes its job seriously. Because football is a serious game – it’s always evolving, and they’re committed to moving it in the right direction.
“We’re going to continue to focus on Heads Up Football, but we want to educate all head coaches,” said CEO Scott Hallenbeck. “We want every head coach to be a player safety coach. We want them to give us more feedback and input on ways we can get better. We want them to be ambassadors and spokespeople for the game.”
Earlier this month, USA Football gathered some of the best football minds in the country – high school coaches, college coaches, former NFL players, and NFL team representatives – and brought them to Indianapolis.
“We have a contingent of about 100 people who represent our master trainer pool. And it’s just an incredibly influential and knowledgeable and talented group that helps us be better at what we need to do,” he said. “We call them the master trainers. It really started with Heads Up Football and the idea was we need people who can be in the community.”
What they learn, they bring back to their football communities and teach. And that’s how they change the game – one coach at a time.
“We want to help the entire ecosystem of football – meaning coaches, players, officials – that’s really our role. But it starts with opportunities like this where you can interact with the experts and the influencers.”
Scott Peters is one of those influencers. A former offensive lineman, he was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the fourth round of the 2002 NFL Draft.
In 2006, while he was with the Panthers, an ankle injury threatened his football career. He started training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and other Mixed Martial Arts. It not only helped him get back in the game, it actually helped his game.
“I got my mind blown,” he said. “I saw these little guys who were throwing me around. So I’m like, ‘Wow. If we applied some of these mechanics towards football, maybe we’re going to be better players.’”
After finishing his career in Arizona in 2009, that’s what he did. Peters went on to develop Tip of the Spear, a martial arts based football program designed to take head impact out of the game.
Safety through superior technique is what he trains with an emphasis on protecting the brain. And as he learned, it also makes better football players – a win-win for everyone.
“We don’t even talk about safer, we talk about better. And the byproduct of that is safer,” he said. “We’re showing them something that’s the best of all worlds and sustainable for the game. And it doesn’t compromise the integrity or the physicality of the game.”
Peters sees a need for football to become more of a developmental game – with less emphasis on speed, strength, and equipment and more emphasis on technique.
It’s not the quick fix some people are looking for.
“Society has this thing, it’s like, ‘Well, just get him a better helmet.’”
To truly change the game is going to take resources – time, energy, and people.
“It’s a long-term project. We’re trying to help the game. And really, most importantly, help people,” he said. “Unfortunately, a lot of kids don’t have information. That’s what we’re trying to do – is take this megaphone that is USA Football and provide this leadership to everybody out there that plays this game.”
As Youth Football Commissioner for the Colts, Mike Prior works closely with USA Football. And as the football authority in the state of Indiana, the Colts are also committed to making football a better, safer game.
“Kids play sports to have fun when they’re young. Just teaching them proper technique and drills and having fun at the early ages, kids will be more excited about playing later on,” he said.
And one of the ways they’re doing that is with their Rookie Tackle program. A bridge between flag football and 11-player tackle, it’s part of USA Football’s adoption of the United States Olympic Committee’s American Development Model (ADM) and it’s a way to bring more kids into the game in a way they’re comfortable with, in a way their parents are comfortable with, and in a way that suits their size and ability.
It helps build more well-rounded players and more well-rounded kids.
“You can keep more kids playing,” said Prior. “And if kids are on the field and they’re active, they’re going to have more fun. And if you have better coaches that are really trying to transform the kids, those kids are going to stay around a lot longer to play.”
Pop Warner, the largest, oldest youth football program in the country, just adopted USA Football’s ADM model. Offering participants multiple entry points to the game is a game changer for football.
“The USA Football ADM will allow kids to experience the sport at their own pace and it will help us with the development of both players and coaches,” said Jon Butler, Executive Director of Pop Warner.
Football is a kid’s game that grew into America’s game.
With that growth, USA Football wants to make sure it continues to be a kid’s game, primarily through good coaching and proper technique.
“We always talk about how football continues to evolve,” said Hallenbeck. “This is the next generation of football.”
For more information on USA Football’s Rookie Tackle program, click here.