USA Football is the national governing body for amateur football in the United States. It is an independent non-profit based in Indianapolis. USA Football hosts more than 100 training events annually and offers education programs for coaches and game officials, as well as skill development for young players and resources for youth league administrators. The organization awards more than $1 million in equipment grants to youth leagues and high schools each year based on merit and need along with additional resources. USA Football also offers up to $500,000 in subsidies for volunteer youth coach background checks.
USA Football was endowed by the National Football League and the National Football League Players Association in 2002. It leads the wide-ranging community within the sport and champions the athletes, parents, coaches, officials and administrators who bring youth and scholastic football to life. USA Football’s mission is: To Advance, Unify and Grow the Sport of Football.
Sports Destination Management: This year, for the first time, we saw a decline in participation at the high school level in traditional football, which has always been ranked in the top-10 sports for boys. Does USA Football have any initiatives in place to reverse the trend?
Melinda Whitemarsh: USA Football is reimagining the sport through our work with other leaders across athletics, sport science and sport medicine. What is taught and played today with USA Football’s standards is smarter, better football.
Among the ways we are advancing the game and addressing its challenges is through our Football Development Model (FDM). Aligned with the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee’s (USOPC) American Development Model, the FDM is the sport’s first long-term athlete development model that serves to build better athletes and increase participation. Some national governing bodies of sport have traveled this road in recent years. However, none cover a footprint of athletes and fans larger than football. Helping guide our model is USA Football’s FDM Council, consisting of leaders from The Ivy League, Children’s National Health System, the NCAA, NFL, USOPC and others.
Centered on ensuring boys and girls are having fun, the FDM is a forward-thinking framework for how we play, coach and experience football. Like baseball’s progression of tee-ball to “coach pitch” to “player pitch,” the model employs multiple football game types (flag, padded flag, modified tackle, 11-player tackle, etc.), applying them as conduits to learn and reinforce developmentally appropriate skills.
At its heart, the FDM is a skill-focused progression based on a player’s developmental readiness physically, cognitively, emotionally and socially. This creates new pathways – in football and other sports – for more kids to participate, have fun and leverage football as a pathway for life-long wellness.
The FDM is currently being piloted by six youth football programs across the country, providing USA Football with feedback as we prepare for the model’s national launch in 2020. One of those pilots recently hosted the first FDM Skills Night, where youth players took the field for a series of fun and developmentally appropriate stations, covering character development, athlete-building, football skills and athlete wellness. This is the future of football.
A few additional third-party comments regarding the Football Development Model are as follows:
“When youth programs adopt the FDM, athletes will perform better, play longer and gain a lifelong path to athleticism, health and wellness through football.” Dr. Brian Hainline, NCAA Chief Medical Officer, chairman of USA Football’s FDM Council
“The FDM is a progressive approach for the development and safety of our players as they are learning the game. This is 21st century football that embraces the value of the team experience, fundamental skill instruction and contact reduction in an effort to teach the sport in a smarter and safer fashion.” Buddy Teevens, Dartmouth head coach, member of USA Football’s FDM Council
“As an FDM Council member, seeing the model come to life from flip charts to football fields is tremendously exciting – and it’s especially inspiring to see it happen here in Buffalo,” Brownson said. “This is football – taught and played – in its richest, smartest form. USA Football’s model embraces the fun of the sport, the value of the team experience and fundamental skill instruction in a forward-thinking, dynamic way.” Callie Brownson, Buffalo Bills full-season coaching intern, member of USA Football’s FDM Council
“USA Football’s FDM is a cutting-edge educational resource for football. The approach meshes skill-based content across an age-based pathway that supports developmental readiness for coaches and players. Football parents have a new and innovative educational model that reimagines how the game is taught and played. The FDM is setting the new standard for sports governing bodies that are looking to create or improve upon their own development models. I am proud to be a part of the creation of the FDM and the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee is excited to watch as it gains momentum.” Chris Snyder, U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee Director of Coaching, member of USA Football’s FDM Council
SDM: What else do you see as a contributing factor on the part of USA Football to being able to help get more kids interested – and making their parents happy about their participation?
Whitemarsh: Education is the foundation of smarter and better play. We firmly believe that no coach should walk on a field without being certified. Since the inception of our nationally endorsed Heads Up Football program in 2012, USA Football has educated and certified more youth and high school football coaches than any organization in the country. To our knowledge, no USOPC member organization trains more coaches annually than USA Football.
Our youth tackle football practice guidelines define levels of contact and limit full contact time during a practice to 30 minutes or less. More on these medically endorsed youth practice guidelines can be found here. USA Football is proud to have its practice guidelines endorsed by the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine and the National Athletic Trainers’ Association.
SDM: What events does USA Football put on?
Whitemarsh: As the exclusive U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee member dedicated solely to football and the sport’s national governing body, USA Football organizes and manages U.S. National Teams for international competition, which includes the International Bowl. Established in 2010, the International Bowl is the longest-running annual series of high school-aged international football teams. Last year’s event – International Bowl X – convened 16 teams spanning five countries and two continents for two gamedays of global competition. For the past five years, USA Football has hosted the International Bowl at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, home of the Dallas Cowboys.
Other competitions we host include the USA Football Middle School Bowl Game Series and our newly announced flag football championship. As part of our U.S. National Team program, the Middle School Bowl Game Series unites the next generation of standout athletes who participated in U.S. National Team Regionals in the spring and are selected by Regionals’ coaching staffs. This year’s second annual event featured 12 invite-only teams within Under-14 and Under-15 age divisions. Three games were played at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio while the other three were played in Frisco, Texas’ Ford Center at The Star, the training camp home of the Dallas Cowboys.
The national flag football championship titled, “The One,” will be among America’s largest youth and adult flag tournaments, drawing teams from a national series of sanctioned tournaments and at-large entrants. The One will be held July 24-26, 2020, at Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield, Ind., spanning teams across 17 divisions from age 7 to adult.
In addition to teams earning full or partial bids to The One through USA Football-sanctioned tournaments, youth and adult flag teams interested in competing in the annual championship are eligible for at-large entry and can register to participate through our website.