This week on the Heads ‘N Tales podcast I talk about Health & Safety in youth football with Brian Klinger. Brian is the president of the Morristown Wildcats youth football program in Morristown, NJ and he took an admirable approach to ensuring safety at all practices and games for his players.
Brian started the football program with the vision of giving all players with varying skill levels a chance to play, instead of watching from the sideline. To ensure this, Brian enacted a minimum playtime rule of one quarter/game for every kid on the team. I appreciate this rule because I was a kid who spent his first few years of football memorizing the cheerleader chants instead of the playbook. Another rule that ensures all athletes receive equal and unbiased attention from the coaching staff, no parent’s are allowed to coach at the 8th grade level.
From the get-go Brian saw the value in having a Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC) looking after the kids on game days. If you know anything about my story, an ATC saved my life, and although most high schools are beginning to see the value in them, many youth programs haven’t. The most important thing about this decision is that the ATC has the final say in if a player can return to the game.
USA Football, which is the sport’s governing body and is supported by the NFL has put great effort heat making the sport safer to play. They offer a coaching certification course that covers the following topics and all coaches in the Wildcat program are certified:
• Concussion Recognition and Response
• Heat Preparedness and Hydration
• Sudden Cardiac Arrest
• Proper Equipment Fitting
• Heads Up Tackling
• Heads Up Blocking
I think the Heads Up program is great for changing the culture of football from one of toughness to one of safety. However, at the end of the day, football is football, which is an inherently physical and at some times dangerous game. Heck, walking across the street and driving a car can be dangerous too. In this episode I want it to be clear that I loved football and still do. If I could go back and do it all over again I would. The only thing I would have done differently is say something when my head was hurting me. Had I been playing in a sports culture like the one Brian has created for the Wildcat program, I probably would have voiced my concern for the headaches I was experiencing. However, I chose to hide my concussion symptoms and had to sit out for the rest of my life. I hope all youth sports programs can look to the Morristown Wildcat program as the gold standard for ensuring the safest game possible.