“How many people in here have had a concussion?” Louis Valdin asked the roomful of football coaches. Several hands were raised.
“How many people in here have not had a concussion, but have had their bell rung?” Several more hands went up.
“You had a concussion,” said Valdin, a veteran coach from Louisiana who now serves as part of USA Football’s Heads Up Football program.
High school and middle school football coaches from around Mobile listened to Valdin’s presentation on everything from concussions to hydration to proper equipment fitting last Friday at Theodore. Mobile County is one of the first two counties in Alabama to require its coaches to go through the Heads Up Football program in 2017.
Created and administered by USA Football, an independent nonprofit organization supported by the NFL, Heads UP Football is a comprehensive program that establishes and teaches safety standards backed by the best available science. It’s supported by the American College of Sports Medicine, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine and other leading sports and medical associations.
One of the main topics of discussion was concussions – a hot-button issue at all levels of the sport as more becomes known about long-term effects. The NFL, NCAA and state high school associations have rules in place to govern how coaches react when they see signs of a potential concussion in a player, and protocols those players must go through before they can get back on the field.
Valdin urged the coaches to err on the side of caution. “If you don’t know if he’s got a concussion or not,” he said, “sit him out.”
Along with concussion recognition and response, the program included discussion and instruction on: proper fitting for helmets and shoulder pads, heat preparedness and hydration, sudden cardiac arrest and CPR/AED training, practice scheduling, and the need for an Emergency Action Plan. After Valdin’s presentation in Theodore’s auditorium, coaches went out to the football field for a demonstration on proper blocking and tackling techniques — including the rugby-style tackle currently practiced by the Seattle Seahawks, which limits contact by the head.
“The health and well-being of our student-athletes is our No. 1 priority,” said Brad Lowell, MCPSS director of athletics. “Requiring USA Football’s Heads Up Football program helps our county establish a standard of excellence for our student-athletes.”
Most of the recommendations of Heads Up football are already in practice throughout Alabama, as the program was endorsed and promoted by the Alabama High School Athletic Association in 2016. Friday’s training provided an opportunity for Mobile County coaches to gain certification in areas in which they had not already done so, as well as guidance on implementing the full Heads Up Football program in their schools.
“Athletics director Lowell and the entire Mobile County school district are setting important standards rooted in education for their student-athletes,” said USA Football CEO and Executive Director Scott Hallenbeck. “I’m grateful for their leadership, and look forward to seeing how Heads Up Football benefits coaching development and, more importantly, student-athlete well-being.”