Football clinic focuses on head safety, interests local coaches


Football is the sport Gary Bianchi says builds the youth of America.

The former St. Joseph coach said the sport's concussion crisis is distracting from that positive mission. When football is played safely, it can be a positive influence.

"We [have] got to keep letting people know that football has done a lot of good for our country," he said.

Teaching the sport safely is the focus this weekend of a clinic being put on by USA Football. Nearly two dozen of the best football coaches in the country are meeting in Indianapolis this weekend with the aim of making the game safer at the lower levels.

USA Football, the sport's governing body, is running a clinic for what it calls "master trainers" in its Heads Up Football program. These trainers will fan out across the country and instruct representatives from youth leagues in Heads Up Football, which incorporates coaching education, concussion recognition and response, tackling technique and equipment fitting.

"Largely heads-up football takes cues from the medical community which tells us a fundamentally-sound player is a safer player," said USA Football communications director Steve Alic. "It's a comprehensive approach to teaching and playing youth football."

The master trainers will educate a player-safety coach from each league participating in Heads Up Football, who will then train coaches, athletes and even parents on the program. Alic said USA Football wants parents to know what a proper tackle looks like and how equipment should fit.

Hoosac Valley football coach Dayne Poirot said he has had conversations with Berkshire Youth Football Association commissioner Dan Hogan about having high school coaches provide similar safety training to youth coaches. Hogan could not be reached for comment.

Lee Youth Football president Chris Abderhalden, who is an assistant coach at Lee High School, said he discussed anything that comes across his desk education-related with Hogan. He has done coaching clinics with USA Football and attended the organization's regional forums.

He's also done training required by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association as a high school coach. He said he tries to pass those lessons on to his youth coaches, parents and players.

"We go over the symptoms, what to do, what not to do," Abderhalden said. "The type of questions to ask. We don't require everybody in our league to have certain certifications but we are slowly working on it. No. 1, you should have the education. No. 2 it is probably going to be mandated at some point. It already is at the high school level. It's not at the youth level, but it should be."

Abderhalden said while concussions are getting the most buzz right now, there are also other things, such as heat awareness, that are just as important. He said the education isn't a hard thing to do, and every bit of information helps.

Bianchi and Abderhalden agree that sharing information between the high school and youth levels is beneficial.

"We definitely want to get involved in teaching, again going back to proper technique and instructing youth coaches on all aspects of football," Bianchi said.


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