Empowering Coaches Step-By-Step

Youth Football Teams Being Mandated How to Practice- Pop Warner Takes First Step

Pop Warner Takes First Step 

Pop Warner, one of the nations largest and most influential youth football leagues mandated new practice rules this month. Pop Warner football has announced that coaches will be required to make at least two-thirds of their practice time non-contact, and during the one-third of the time with contact, there will be no full-speed, head-on blocking or tackling drills in which players line up more than three yards apart. “Pop Warner’s rule changes are based on research that shows that more concussions occur in practice than games” said Dr. Julian Bailes, chairman of the Pop Warner medical advisory board. “The impact of head-to-head contact causes the most severe concussions, so we felt it was imperative that Pop Warner take a proactive approach and limit contact in practices.”

These practice rule mandates appear to be an attempt to make the game safer for Pop Warner players, help push coaches towards safer practice methods and help Pop Warner with some basic risk management and positive public relations. Unfortunately there are still a handful of youth football coaches who teach unsafe blocking and tackling methods and those same guys use poorly designed drills with far too much space between players. These are often times well intentioned coaches often times just mirroring what they were taught when they played the game 20 years ago. Few of these offenders has ever attended (or listened when they’ve attended) a coaches clinic or invested a few dollars in an instructional book or DVD.
The facts are most well trained coaches rarely have problems with player concussions. In over 20 years of coaching youth football I’ve only had a single player show concussion symptoms. He was diagnosed with a “possible concussion” by his family doctor and held out of practice for 2 weeks.

When players tackle and block properly, they rarely involve the top of the head. What can we do to minimize this problem? First start by teaching proper blocking and tackling that doesn’t use the head as a battering ram. When players are taught how to block and tackle in simple step by step, slow progressions, they learn how to do it correctly and safely. Too many youth coaches just start lining kids up to hit once they get their pads on without having the kids perfect safe technique. The end results are kids getting hurt and on a broader scale and endagering the game we love.

When you are doing technique development drills for blocking or tackling, there  isn’t even a need to wear helmets. We practice without our helmets on for about a third of every practice. We’ve been doing it that way for the last 15 seasons due to both heat/comfort issues and the fact when kids don’t have helmets on it forces them to not lead with their head. They seem to be forced to dip their hips, bend their knees and keep their head upright, all things that are helpful when learning how to tackle safely. You can practice without helmets during blocking and tackling form development progressions and movements as well as things like angle form fit tackling drills, group offensive line blocking rule fits, team fit and freeze segments and numerous individual drills during indys that involve perfect fits instead of taking players to the ground. Obviously the end progression is to go live to the ground, but that need not be the majority of the time investment.

Now don’t get me wrong and heap me into that pile of people that think football should not be a physical game. I’m also not one of those soccer moms who have as their end goal the banning of football. But you can play fundamentally sound, safe AND physical football without going full throttle hitting for most of every practice. My teams have gone 139-20 over the last 16 seasons in 4 different leagues. We’ve competed in numerous out state tournaments and we’ve only been out hit 6-7 times over that time period. I’m told by opposing coaches we are a very physical team.

Guys, we need to do something before something is done to us. Consider adjusting your practice approach to teaching proper form and perfect fundamentals without as much to the ground contact. Think about keeping helmets off for a good portion of your practices. More information on that approach can be found in my book, “Winning Youth Football a Step-by-Step Plan.” The book has been updated and is now 308 pages. It includes our base teaching approach and progressions for safe blocking and tackling.

Copyright 2012 Cisar Management, all rights reserved. This article may be republished but only if this paragraph and link are included. //winningyouthfootball.com

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1 Comment

  1. Henry

    Smart article. As a team manager my first year in the league, I was able to do a great deal of observation during practice and games. I noticed that far too many coaches were a bit too eager to get on the pads the first week and start hitting as opposed to teaching the fundamentals. The result was the experienced players tackled and blocked poorly, while the rookies had a hard time getting used to hitting, let alone tackling and blocking. There is a panicked mindset that overcomes these coaches who think that unless they start hitting the first week, then they are behind all others.


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