Leading the Way for Youth and High School Football | Sports Destination Management

Leading the Way for Youth and High School Football

Nov 20, 2017 | By: Beth Porreca

Photos courtesy of USA Football
The sport of football continues its evolution, and USA Football, a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee and the sport’s national governing body, is at the forefront of that movement. USA Football trains more high school and youth coaches combined than any organization in the United States.

Its stated mission is to design and deliver premier educational, developmental and competitive programs that will advance and grow the sport, lead coach and player development, connect the football community and celebrate the game’s inherent values. USA Football administers our country’s National Team program in the sport and hosts a series of competitive National Team events for teens and adults across flag and tackle football. 

Throughout the year, the organization keeps busy with a number of programs designed to advance the sport, its players and officials. Here is a synopsis:

Rookie Tackle
This fall, USA Football is piloting a version of the sport designed to bridge the gap between flag football and 11-player tackle football, similar to baseball’s progression of tee-ball to “coach pitch” to “player pitch.” In alignment with the U.S. Olympic Committee’s American Development Model (ADM), Rookie Tackle is part of a long-term athlete development pathway centered on skill development and the fun of playing football.

The pilot season includes 10 sites spanning eight states, composed of The School District of Philadelphia and nine youth football organizations. Still early in its evaluation, parents, coaches and players have embraced its small-sided concept for young athletes.

Key Aspects of Rookie Tackle Game Play:
• Six, seven or eight players on the field per team
• Smaller field size, scaled for a youth athlete’s age and skill level
• Maximizes field space by playing two games simultaneously on a regulation-size field
• Players learn multiple positions and skills; position-specialization is not introduced
• Smaller teams foster more playing time and opportunities for improvement, success
• Players on offensive and defensive lines begin every play in a two-point stance
• Removal of special teams encourage more plays from scrimmage and skill development
• More focused, individualized coaching attention by virtue of a smaller roster.

The post-season Rookie Tackle evaluation with the pilot leagues will help us determine how this version of the sport may be improved for a wider spectrum of scholastic and youth programs in future seasons.

Heads Up Football
Created and administered by USA Football, Heads Up Football establishes important evidence-based practices through a comprehensive approach to teach and play the sport. Heads Up Football instructs coaches on health and safety protocols as well as on-field fundamentals, including:
• Proper equipment fitting
• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concussion recognition and response
• Sudden cardiac arrest protocols
• Heat preparedness and hydration protocols from the Korey Stringer Institute
• Shoulder tackling and blocking.

More than 10,000 high school and youth football organizations combined enrolled in Heads Up Football in 2017, a single-year high mark since the program was first offered in 2013. This year delivered another important milestone as all 50 states now have high school football programs enrolled in the program as well, including more than 60 of the nation’s largest school districts such as New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago.

We continuously explore innovative ways to improve our programs and offerings. Heads Up Football educational components were expanded in 2015 to include protocols for heat preparedness and hydration as well as sudden cardiac arrest. In 2017, our shoulder tackling technique was enhanced by working together with USA Rugby, the American Football Coaches Association and other leaders in our sport to teach this skill with unified and consistent terminology. Shoulder tackling also is designed to reduce helmet contact for safer play.

Heads Up Football has earned third-party support from leading medical organizations, including the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine and the National Athletic Trainers’ Association.

Coaching Certification
Education changes behavior for the better. Football and many other scholastic and youth sports are taught and played better and smarter today than just a few years ago.

By pursuing coaching certification through Heads Up Football, enrolled youth and school-based programs receive access to its online curriculum at usafootball.com and NFHSLearn.com, respectively. Enrolled schools and leagues are also informed of USA Football’s Heads Up Football in-person trainings in their area. USA Football conducted more than 400 in-person Heads Up Football trainings in 2017. School districts and youth leagues enrolled in Heads Up Football are responsible for ensuring that their coaches complete the program’s certification.

Education and coaching certification are important catalysts in all sports’ continued evolution and are becoming the new norm. The number of forward-thinking schools and youth organizations enrolled in Heads Up Football has grown every year since its national inception in 2013.

National Teams
As the sport’s national governing body and a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Football assembles and manages the United States’ national team program in the sport for international competitions and championships. Approximately 70 countries spanning six continents possess national federations dedicated solely to American football; this number has nearly doubled in the past 10 years.
Student-athletes in grades 6-11 enter the U.S. National Team program through our Regional Development Camps and reach its highest level of competition at International Federation of American Football (IFAF) World Championships. IFAF World Championships, held every two-to-four years, incorporate the best national teams across the globe in tackle and flag football. 

The initial step for a young athlete to earn a U.S. National Team roster spot is to participate at a Regional Development Camp (RDC), which is available to all athletes in grades 6-11. The two-day camps emphasize athlete development and serve as an initial National Team tryout. Thirty RDCs were held nationwide last year. Top athletes from Regional Development Camps are selected to participate within their age-appropriate National Team.

U.S. National Teams on the Under-14, -15, -16, -17, -18 and -19 levels compete annually against the world’s top national and providential teams at the International Bowl. The 2018 International Bowl Series featuring the world’s top high-school-age national teams will be held this January. More information about the event’s location and participation nations will be announced in the coming months.

Women’s World Football Games
One of USA Football’s most exciting programs is the Women’s World Football Games. The event will next be held in January 2018 in Orlando, Florida, offering women to improve their skills and become better football players.

Another aspect of this event is the NFL Women’s Careers in Football Forum. This program, created by the NFL, will provide information about careers in NFL Football Operations. The focus will be on coaching, scouting and officiating, with the overarching objective to enhance gender diversity throughout the NFL.

USA Football’s National Conference
This is the largest annual gathering of high school and youth football leaders in the country. Established in 2014, the 2018 event returns to the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida, for the second consecutive year. A prime football destination throughout the weekend, Orlando will host USA Football’s National Conference (January 26-28) as well as the NFL’s Pro Bowl (January 28). The first three national conferences were held in Indianapolis, Indiana.

In 2017, more than 1,200 leaders across the sport attended the national conference, nearly doubling the event’s 2016 registrant total, including guests from Panama, Kenya, Canada, Nigeria and other visiting nations. Attendees have gained insight from football experts, including former Super Bowl-winning head coaches Brian Billick and Jon Gruden, former NFL executive and Pro Football Hall of Famer Bill Polian, two-time Super Bowl-winning linebacker Ray Lewis, former NFL running back and Pro Football Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis, and former NFL running back and current ESPN analyst Merril Hoge. A list of 2018 speakers will be announced by the time this issue is printed.

The vendor hall is an open marketplace for leading brands in football to connect with coaches and commissioners interested in new products and services. It features more than 80 exhibitors, including USA Football’s corporate partners. The hall also includes a demo turf field hosting conference sessions and technical skill demonstrations.

USA Football’s National Conference will call Orlando home through 2018. Sites interested in hosting the event in future years may contact USA Football for more details.   SDM