Football concussion fallout affecting youth program participatio

Football concussion fallout affecting youth program participation

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As popular as football is, a recent report stated Pop Warner Youth participation dropped almost 10 percent nationwide between 2010 and 2012.

It seems the NFL's high profile concussion-related lawsuit not only created daily headlines but also parental fear.

The NFL and USA Football have responded by promoting "Heads Up" Football, a new safety measure that may help bring kids back to the game.

Even for its youngest players football is a collision sport. And with the increased awareness of the long-term negative effects of helmets hitting helmets parents are finding other sports for their children to play.

"The Central Texas Youth Football League is down numbers-wise and other leagues around the Austin metropolitan area are down," Nathan Clark, President of the Capital City Bearcats said.

Clark has seen the slide.

"As for the bearcats? Our numbers have dropped. We've moved locations.. It's more of that fear," Clark said.

Jerome Ramirez, Vice President of Football for the Central Texas Youth Football League says they had roughly 120 teams last season. They have roughly 100 this year.

"If we can educate the kids, the parents, and everyone involved in football, I think we can bring them back," Ramirez said.

That's where the "heads up" initiative comes in.

"It started really with the NFL. They created the program and saw the importance of it," Ramirez said.

Simply put, "heads up" football teaches kids to see what they hit. Fundamental football, really because when the head is down, injury risk goes up.

"We're seeing now kids going helmet to helmet, lowering their heads, not paying attention to how they're tackling someday it's gonna hurt them. Maybe not now - but down the road," Clark said.

Perhaps most encouraging, is the "heads up" synergy between youth leagues, middle schools and high schools.

"Especially with the Texas high school coaches. They're taking a big step forward with this and trying to get in front of it instead of following," Ramirez said.

"We're always gonna teach eyes up and heads up in fact we always say 'eyes to the sky' as we finish a tackle," Cedar Park Head Coach Joe Willis said.

And safety doesn't sacrifice success. Willis implemented a heads up/safety first mentality - all the way to last year's state championship.

"So we're constantly talking about it. Not just that, but we also grade film - our practice film - and anytime we see improper technique or eyes down we talk to the kids about it. Because I believe in that - I believe in proper technique. I believe it makes the game a better game and it makes the kids better players," Willis said.

You no doubt noticed the protective guardian caps at the Cedar Park practice. Those are yet another safety measure that some schools are implementing.

As for the "Heads Up" Program, it still relatively new and is not being adopted by all youth leagues, but it seems to be gaining momentum.

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