Ellington Football League Improving Player Safety

When people think about football and football injuries, the biggest fear is usually concussions. In college and the National Football League, rules have been changed to help prevent head injuries, and now, changes are being seen at the high school and youth levels as well.

The Ellington Football League has implemented some new measures to improve the level of player safety.

“Safety has to be the highest priority,” said EFL President David Race.

USA Football, a non-profit group based in Indianapolis, has established itself as a national governing body for youth football. USA Football came up with a program called “Heads Up,” and the EFL recently became Heads Up certified.

“The focus of it is really to reestablish how coaches teach the fundamentals of contact football with kids,” said Race. “The goal is getting the head out of the game. When I was growing up, my coach taught me to tackle by putting my head down and putting my shoulders down and put the top of my helmet on the guy’s belt buckle or on the football. Lead with the head and lead with the shoulders. With Heads Up, they’ve completely changed the fundamental way you go about a tackle.”

He added, “Basically, you come in down low and you keep your head, eyes, and chin up, and you power up through the opposing player. So you’re making contact with the front of your shoulder and your head off to the side. The point of contact is really your chest and the front of your shoulder and not the head and neck and top of shoulder. It really changes the approach to how we teach the fundamentals of contact and tackling in the game.”

In addition, Race said the Heads Up program teaches more than just the revised method of blocking and tackling, but also encompasses proper equipment fitting, climatization – dealing with practices when it’s hot and how to recognize and react to heat related illness – and a couple other elements that provide for a safer, better game.

“It’s pretty amazing the comprehensive nature that they taught us,” said Race.

The EFL is the first team in the league to adopt this program.

“It’s our hope that we become the pilot program for this in the NCFL and convince the other teams to adopt the same certification standards,” said Race.

Last year, the EFL began using a Guardian Cap – a device that’s worn on top of the helmet and provides an extra level of padding on the exterior of the helmet – during practice. It is not approved for use in games, but many injuries happen in practice, so this is another preventative measure.

“Being able to use during practice is another step in reducing the kids’ exposure to the risk of injury,” said Race.

This year, all players will be wearing a new Xenith helmet. The helmet was one of the three highest rated helmets – based on the ability to absorb impact, durability, and ability resist the lateral movement when hit from the side – available.

In addition to all the changes made with the football players, the cheerleading squads have also seen safety improvements.

“The cheerleading coaches have greater level of certification than they’ve ever had before,” said Race. “It doesn’t just begin and end with the football players.”

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