One of my clients who played a long time in the NFL and is now coaching in the NFL, made a comment to me that is a sign of the times. He said, “Man, these guys have it made (referring to current NFL players). They practice half as much as we did and only have about 10% of the contact we had. These guys will play for a long time”.
Yes, it’s true, say goodbye to two-a-day full contact practices, brutal practice rituals and barbaric head banging drills. Today’s football coaches and organizations are producing a safer game with less risk for injury.
Helmet to helmet hits are greatly diminishing: The helmet to helmet hit will never be totally eliminated from the game of football, but it has and will be significantly reduced. Unless you have been under a rock for the last three years, anyone involved with football has been made aware of the brain trauma associated with concussions. Therefore, coaches at all levels of football should be more proactive than ever in teaching proper head placement for tackling and blocking techniques.
Liability: Coaches from Pop Warner to high school have been made aware that they could face potential liability for creating and/or encouraging unsafe methods, techniques and practices. I’m certain everyone knows the NFL is facing lawsuits from their own players, so what’s to stop college, high school or youth players from doing the same? The growing shadow of liability should keep those in charge (coaches, trainers, and conditioning coaches) honest about making sure the players don’t put themselves at risk, especially for head trauma.
I doubt we will see anymore contact drills called; “The Nutcracker”, “Oklahoma drill”, and/or “The bull in the ring”.
Trickle down education: The NFL is spending millions on educating youth players on the proper techniques of blocking and tackling. Programs such as Play 60 and Heads Up have reached tens of thousands of children already. Just like in rugby where it’s second nature for players to tackle with their shoulder, a new breed of football player is emerging that’s better educated through camps and clinics on how to protect themselves, and their opponents from injury.
Death of the barbarian coach: I was taught in both high school and college to lead with butt of helmet when I wanted to block someone. I suffered four concussions. My coaches weren’t being barbaric but they were teaching techniques of the game that were taught to them.
What we like to call “old school” coaches, are rapidly dying off. When Bill Walsh came on the scene and started winning Super Bowls with short, crisp, cerebral and non-contact practices, the football world took notice and started adopting his philosophy. In addition, as the game continues to speed up with spread offenses, coaches stuck in teaching strictly a physical brand of football are being weeded out and left behind.
The mindset has changed: 2011 and 2012 will be known as the years where the NFL brand of football went soft but safer. Anybody watching noticed more penalties and more reprimands by the announcers when a hit seemed either too low, too high, unsafe and/or just too vicious. It’s just not cool anymore. We all still love a great hit but not when there is a risk of concussion or serious injury. And what the pros do, the kids and their coaches will imitate.
The majority of my retired clients are pretty beat up. They’ve suffered torn muscles, labrums, cartilage, and most have had at least one concussion. These same clients now have boys between the ages of 6 and 17. And every one that I represented is letting, if not encouraging their kids to play football. So if you’re on the fence about letting your child play football, do some homework first and I believe you will find a beautiful game filled with less contact, safer methods and better coaches than you imagined.
Sure, there will always be a risk for injury but the risk of suffering a serious injury while skateboarding, surfing, and/or mountain biking may be even greater.
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