Coaches, it’s our job to educate on the importance of football player safety. Whether it’s hazardous conditions outside (too hot, bad weather) or dealing with concussions, it’s ultimately our job to be the advocate of safety progression in football if we ultimately want the game to be protected as well. This may be a really hard pill to swallow, but if WE do not step up as football coaches, there will never be a culture change in regards to football player safety.
Football Player Safety: Weather Conditions
I bring this up because I was disturbed by some response I saw on Twitter and the coaching forums regarding Hurricane Sandy. I understand, that you are at a disadvantage regarding practice time. I would say that your opponents have the same issue, but I think, as coaches, at that point in time we need to be looking out for the well being of our players.
I heard some coaches insist on doing quizzes and using Hudl to ensure their players are focused. I understand being prepared for the game, but if you’re dealing with a storm like this, which everyone has billed as a Super Storm due to the combination of the hurricane and winter weather system, then you need to understand that our kids need to be with their families. They shouldn’t be working on Hudl, they should be monitoring their individual situation. They should be focused on their family and immediate friends who are in potential danger. You can have film ready without promoting it to the kids so if they have the opportunity (aka out of harms way, the storm goes the other direction suddenly, etc…) the kids can watch film if they feel safe, but honestly coaches, our game isn’t that important. Even if it’s the playoffs. I love this sport just as much as the next guy. But we have a major issue if we expect our kids to do quizzes when there is expected to be mass flooding and winds that can easily knock out power, throw trees through windows, among other things. Maybe I’m playing Monday Morning QB on the football player safety concern, but we need to learn from this going forward. A hurricane is a hurricane though, and you should all be educated on what they can do. If you’re not, find out before making statements.
Us as coaches can change this culture. Kids, parents, or fans should not be concerned with football during a storm like that. The fact that we are shows a signal that things are backwards in society. A lot of coaches tell their kids that their priorities are “faith, family, academics, then football”. This situation has those priorities mixed up. If you refuse to abide by what you say as a coach, you’re wrong. You’re professing hypocrisy. During that storm, family was a concern. Football was not. As coaches, we need to set the tone. Our message should have been, “spend time with your family and immediate friends, be safe, watch out for your loved ones”, not “watch film, take this quiz, be ready to play.”
This lesson needs to apply to us during the summer as well. I think this is determined somewhat regionally, but it is up to us as coaches to understand medical history of our kids. If you live in a very hot or humid climate in the summer, and a kid hasn’t been checked for heart issues, consider him an at-risk kid and sit him on days when the heat index is too high. Sorry, it sucks. But you know what? This will help prioritize testing throughout the country for these medical concerns. Again, us as coaches can send this message. There are solutions as well. Schedule your two-a-day practices in the early morning and at night. Could decrease practice turnout, and maybe keep a kid from playing? Potentially. Is that worth one life, or one significant hospitalization. Most definitely, and if you think otherwise, I strongly encourage you to re-examine your coaching philosophy.
Do you know all the risks that go into these heart issues? I don’t. I should. It will be a priority going into this off-season and you will see some more posts on health and safety. I’m not a doctor, but I should be more educated on the topics that can drastically effect even one player’s life.
Football Player Safety: Injuries
A concussion is an injury. We, as coaches, are struggling to handle this. You might say it to your athlete’s parents or the media that concussions are an issue, but then I find that some coaches (twitter, message boards, networking at clinics) don’t follow through with that message internally. I may get black listed for saying this, but if you balk at a trainer when there is a concussion concern with a kid, you’re wrong. Do you want an opinion before a kid goes to the trainer? Consider hiring a coach who is an EMT or has significant medical training in head injuries (think nurse). Make sure they have enough moral fiber and character to stand up to you AND THE REST OF YOUR COACHES when football player safety is a concern too, or don’t bother looking for a coach like this.
You have no authority to pass any judgement on medical issues without a medical background dealing with head injuries as a coach. I would say I’m sorry for saying that tough message, but I’m not. The honest truth is, unless you have medical authority, don’t try to sway the opinion of anyone else regarding a player injury. This means even when just talking to other coaches. Talk about adjustments you need to make, talk about personnel decisions to adjust for the injury, do anything like that. But don’t tell the other coaches that it was a bad call by the trainers to take a kid out without that medical background. You’re only feeding the problems concerning the issue. Especially if you’re a head coach.
Player safety also means benching a kid, no matter how good they are, if they won’t use proper safety technique. Offensive line coaches, if your kid blocks with their helmet down (look for scratches there, look on film ,etc…), be ready to fix the issue or sit the kid. If the player won’t respond to coaching, it doesn’t matter how good he is. If he’s not safe, bench him. Safety concerns trump athletic ability. Have a defensive back who has division one attributes but tackles with his head down? Sit his butt on the bench and coach him up. Does he refuse to change? He will learn to make the adjustment if he really wants that scholarship, or he really doesn’t need that scholarship.
Football Player Safety: Dealing with Players and Parents
You may look at me and say that this is all good on paper, but it’s hard to actually do these things. You might be thinking, Sit a kid for safety reasons who’s really good? The parents will kill me! No, they won’t. If you explain it to the parents one on one, and look them in the eye, you will be fine. Show them the video evidence (aka record practice and drills!) if absolutely necessary. If you coach up safety well, then you can point to other players who have learned the technique to illustrate it’s not a coaching issue. Tell them sitting the kid will help. I’m speaking from experience here. I’ve been coaching since 2005. I’ve sat 4 or 5 kids for safety reasons. Two would not have seen the field anyways, but one was definitely a play maker, but he would duck his head when he tackled. I sat him. I got questions. I provided answers.
In regards to parents, a lot of coaches try to shun them away just because their parents. Again, you may say things like “They’re trying to change my scheme”, or “They want to know why Johnny isn’t starting”. Just because you have a few loud parents who are ridiculous doesn’t mean they should all be scrutinized for that. Even if a parent is asking about playing time, and it’s truly a safety reason, then you just addressed a major problem with them.
Football Player Safety: Mentoring Others
I provided a lot of examples, but I honestly hope you got one lesson out of this. It’s our job, as coaches, to mentor other coaches, our players, and the parents on issues regarding football player safety. This needs to be a culture change if we want to save this sport. You need to be consistent. You need to be firm. If you do that, you’ll help fix our game. Being safe doesn’t necessarily take away from the toughness of football, which is the next lesson you need to learn. Actually, being safe probably means both coaches (in regards to weather) and players (in regards to injuries) are more disciplined. Discipline, in my opinion, is a definite factor in toughness. Being emotionally compromised using bad technique like spearing or ducking the head, or insisting that we got robbed by the weather and need to watch film shows that we are not disciplined. It shows that we are undisciplined and unruly, which isn’t part of being tough.
Football Player Safety: Officials
I do challenge officials in this as well. I honestly believe education of officials on football player safety can be drastically improved from a consistency stand point. Throwing the flags in regards to safety, when really there was no safety concern, only hurts the cultural change to make football safer. Officials are the one everyone sees affecting this, even if coaches are leading the charge verbally. If there is a safety concern, throw the flag if it breaks the rules, or inform the coach immediately and be firm if it doesn’t. If it was a good, clean hit that happened to be loud, don’t throw the flag just assuming it was bad. You need to see the safety issue. You ruin credibility for player safety this way by just throwing the flags when the pads pop. Again, like coaches, be firm and be consistent with your calls.
As coaches, we need to lead the charge on football player safety. We’re often looked at by non-coaches (officials, players, fans, parents) as the reason behind injury concerns, whether or not that is accurate doesn’t matter. If we lead the charge, we can ensure we protect our players and the game. It starts with us fellas.