By Scott Hallenbeck
While more than 120 million Americans will soon gather to enjoy the fast-approaching College Football Playoff National Championship Game and Super Bowl, I can't help but reflect on youth football's cultural sea change for the better during the past 10 years as we cross into the 2020s and our next decade of service and support of youth football.
Addressing challenges and misperceptions of America's favorite sport on grassroots levels, you – the football family – continue to align with USA Football for safer and smarter play, higher standards and greater expectations for youth programs nationwide.
A sampling of what we achieved together in the 2010s through your trust and a bold, shared vision, includes:
- USA Football's launch of Heads Up Football in 2012 for the sport's grassroots family as its first national, foundational football safety program. Heads Up Football is comprised of six educational components: concussion recognition and response, equipment fitting, shoulder tackling, blocking, sudden cardiac arrest, and heat and hydration preparedness.
- Through Heads Up Football, more than 700,000 coach certifications have been completed in all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and 10 foreign countries across four continents since 2012. Coach certification has become the sport's "new normal" and an expectation of parents. No organization in the world trains more youth and high school football coaches combined.
- Since 2010, we've conducted more than 1,300 in-person coaching clinics for nearly 50,000 volunteer coaches from all 50 states and 11 foreign countries.
- Advancing education in youth football, we've built a library of courses for coaches, parents and game officials. Pro Football Hall of Famer Tony Dungy, Mike and Christine Golic, the Positive Coaching Alliance and TeachAids are among those who help us build our curriculum at usafootball.com.
- Inspired to put our kids first, we worked with experts to create youth tackle football practice guidelines that earned third-party endorsements from the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine and the National Athletic Trainers' Association.
- In partnership with the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee and our Football Development Model Council, USA Football builds upon Heads Up Football, a nationally endorsed football safety program, with the Football Development Model (FDM). The FDM is the sport's first long-view model for athlete development. Our FDM Council is comprised of leaders spanning the NFL, NCAA, high school and youth football, Children's National Hospital, Dartmouth College, the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee and others.
- Benefiting more than 500,000 youth and high school football players combined across all 50 states and Washington, D.C., USA Football has awarded more than $15 million in grants in its 17-year history to assist more than 9,500 youth and high school football programs.
- As an NFL partner, USA Football led more than 800 youth football clinics at Super Bowl sites during the past decade, delivering football fun and fundamentals to more than 68,000 youth players.
- USA Football led more than 70 NFL FLAG events in partnership with the NFL and its teams for more than 36,000 youth players competing at regional and national events.
- Propelling football participation and healthy lifestyles among young players, USA Football successfully operated the NFL FLAG program from 2011 to 2019. Through the program's first 15 years (1996-2010), player participation peaked at approximately 150,000. Under USA Football's direction, the number of children playing NFL FLAG increased by more than 200%, totaling more than 500,000 participants.
- USA Football became the first U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee member dedicated solely to the sport in 2015.
- Since 2014, USA Football's national conference has served as the largest annual combined gathering of youth and high school football coaches and leaders. Nearly 5,500 conference participants from all 50 states and Washington, D.C., have taken part in the event, featuring speakers such as Pro Football Hall of Famers Bill Polian and Mike Singletary, Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin; University of Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck and others.
- In 2016, USA Football became the first U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee member to earn the National Athletic Trainers' Association (NATA) Youth Sports Safety Ambassador Award for its work focused on the health of children nationwide. The NATA honored USA Football as well as Project ADAM® and U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (NJ-'09) with its 2016 award.
- More than 10 years ago, USA Football was the first national governing body of any sport to participate with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to promote the CDC's "Heads Up" Concussion in Youth Sports program, joining other early supporters like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Alliance for Youth Sports.
Our non-profit office team is determined to continue raising the bar for you – youth league commissioners, coaches, parents and players – who represent the foundation of America's Game.
USA Football looks to continue building on an extraordinary decade of positive progress and forward-thinking for youth football by re-imagining our game together. We're doing this through advanced teaching and education programs, elevated standards and new entry points and options for all to enjoy the world's greatest team sport.
On behalf of all of us at USA Football, we wish you and yours a happy new year in 2020.
Scott Hallenbeck is the executive director and CEO of USA Football and a former youth football dad.