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USA Football keeps spreading the word

Posted Aug 29, 2014

Heads Up Football program has been expanded into the high school ranks all over the country

“Relive the controversy. Restart the debate. Esquire Network’s compelling look at the competitive world of Texas youth football replays in an all-day Labor Day marathon this September 1st at 10|9am.”

That’s the teaser appearing on the home page of what’s described as the “Friday Night Tykes Official Site,” and whether or not there is an attempt being made to schedule this marathon to piggyback the fact that August is USA Football Month, but Scott Hallenbeck, the Executive Director of USA Football wants everyone to know what he thinks of a show billing itself as a 10-part docuseries “with exclusive access to the 8-to-9-year-old Rookies division of the Texas Youth Football Association.”

“It’s the antithesis of what we stand for and what we’ll accept,” said Hallenbeck. “They’re 8-9-year-olds, and interestingly enough, we’re using that as a rallying cry. I will put up the (Friday Night Tykes) promotional video and say, ‘If there is anybody in this room who thinks that is acceptable, you’re sadly mistaken. Because that’s not what we stand for,’ and by we I don’t only mean USA Football, but the 2,800 organizations that have joined us in looking for a better and safer game.”

Hallenbeck’s organization, USA Football, has developed a program called Heads Up Football, which is dedicated to improving how coaches are trained, players are taught, parents are informed, and safety is addressed at all levels of tackle football and flag football. The NFL and its 32 teams recognize August as USA Football Month as a salute to the organization as a leader in coaching education and player development, both on the youth and high school levels of the sport.

“There is a movement geared toward evolving the game the way it needs to be evolved,” said Hallenbeck. “Yes, ‘Friday Night Tykes’ does bring to light the lowest echelon of coaching, and just interacting with kids. I don’t care what sport you’re talking about, no one should be interacting with kids the way that show depicts. We’re using it as a rallying cry, and it really has caused a lot of angst and a lot of anger. But what it’s doing is driving a lot of people back to organizations like USA Football and the Heads-Up Football program.”

During their preseason finale on Thursday night at Heinz Field, the Steelers recognized USA Football Month by having youth football players participate in player introductions, the coin toss, and in the presentation of our nation's colors. Also, all of the players’ helmets featured a sticker dedicated to USA Football Month, in the continuing effort to spread the word about the Heads Up Football initiative.

As far as spreading the word, Hallenbeck is an enthusiastic and committed leader of the pack.

“The positive feedback has energized us,” said Hallenbeck about the response USA Football has been getting about Heads Up Football. “We are definitely continuing to add to the program at the youth level – there will be the hydration component, the sudden cardio component. We will definitely add things like Heads Up Blocking and Heads Up Tackling as time goes on. We are improving the way we’re delivering the program. As you could expect, change in behavior takes time, so there are compliance things – making registration as easy as it can be, better educating parents. We’re developing a Heads Up Football app that’s going to have an injury reporting tool. We are allowing information to be captured so that the parent can take it to the doctor.”

About 18 months ago, in March 2013, in Indianapolis, the first Heads Up Football Master Trainer workshop was held. There, 21 Master Trainers, including some of the nation’s top high school football coaches and some former NFL and college players, were exposed to the intricacies of being responsible for teaching the program to what USA Football hopes will become a growing web of competence.

From that beginning, the web of competence has grown to include high school programs in areas such as Fairfax County in Virginia.

“The most exciting next step is high school,” said Hallenbeck. “When you get them all working together, the positive response is incredible. Now other states are coming to us and wanting to work with us in the Heads Up Football program. Other sports programs want to follow suit with their own Heads Up programs.
So we’re leading a change in behavior, and we’re revolutionizing how we’re going to recreate not only football but sports in general.

“High school coaches have great influence, and if you can get the whole scholastic community – superintendents and principals and athletic directors – all of them involved in this, that really permeates the community at large. We’re really creating a buzz now, and all of that collective energy and excitement really is going to change the game.”

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