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Pop Warner Football Adopts USA Football’s New Model in the Continuing Quest for Safety

4 Apr, 2018

By: Michael Popke

The largest youth football league in the United States will implement USA Football’s American Development Model this fall. ADM is backed by the U.S. Olympic Committee and, according to USA Football’s website, it emphasizes developmentally appropriate activities with a focus on motor and foundational skills.

“For us, nothing trumps safety, and we’re confident the USA Football ADM is going to make the experience safer and more enjoyable,” Jon Butler, Pop Warner’s executive director, told the Associated Press. “With recent changes ... things like eliminating kickoffs for our youngest divisions, limiting contact to 25 percent of all practice time and requiring clearance from a medical professional certified in concussion management before a player with a suspected head injury can return to play, we make our game better and safer. 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.”

Pop Warner’s implementation process will begin with educating coaches, parents and players about the ADM philosophy and its role in the game.

The ADM approach has worked in dozens of sports that fall under the USOC’s umbrella, USA Football says, and Scott Hallenbeck, the national governing body’s chief executive officer, sees its implementation in football as a natural progression.

“We took a step back and as a member of the USOC looked at what other governing bodies were doing,” Hallenbeck told the Associated Press. “For instance, with ice hockey, with specifics for different ages — checking rules, modifying games — it was part of a progression. We have flag football and 11-a-side tackle, so there was not much of a progression. We’ve inserted the middle step, which we call rookie tackle.

“Rookie tackle is a modified game and we tested it in nine locations around the country. The idea is to cut the field in half ... play six- or seven- or eight-man games. Use a two-point stance, no special teams, kids play multiple positions, coaches can be on the field. This will help contribute to the positive overall experience and be an introduction to tackle football.”

In another safety-related move, the Texas Youth Football Association (TYFA) recently announced a three-year strategy that seeks to reduce the number of padded and contact practices for the association’s 10,000 participants — eventually limiting such practices to one per week. The goal is to reduce overall injuries.

Other highlights of the plan include:

  • Increasing coaches’ training in conducting effective non-contact practices

  • Creating better concussion recognition and response protocol

  • Providing better equipment and re-certification of such safety equipment as helmets

  • Implementing the use of soft-shell headgear at the flag football level

  • Continued emphasis on proper tackling techniques and education on ways to limit injuries

  • Harsher in-game punishments for dangerous plays or the incorrect use of safety equipment

  • Severe heat preparedness and proper hydration

“We believe the largest number of injuries take place in practice, thus we felt like TYFA’s decision showed great leadership and foresight,” Mike Juels, chief executive officer of GAMBREAKER, the company that makes the padded headgear the association will be using, told SGB Media. “In working with TYFA on this initiative, we looked to what the NFL and NCAA did to mandate the reduction of padded practices as good examples to follow. For youth leagues, we felt that by eliminating equipment from the majority of practices, they would have the best chance to reduce the aggregate amount of contact across a season, which we believe will reduce injuries.”

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