Nearly 2.2 million young athletes ages 6 to 14 played tackle football across the United States in 2015.
And as leaders of the sport continue to focus on safety, coaching education, equipment and keeping football at the youth level fun, the game will continue to evolve.
And there is plenty you can do to help.
While concussion and CTE tend to dominate the national discussion, there are many areas of safety that must be addressed in order to put our young athletes in the safest possible conditions.
Here are 10 ways to make youth sports better and safer this season:
Have an Emergency Action Plan. Leagues, teams and administrators all need to be on the same page in case of an emergency. This includes simple things such as having a plan for severe weather, collecting and updating parent contact information, keeping maps of the facility handy and knowing the routes that emergency vehicles will take can limit potential mistakes in crucial situations. EAPs also includes larger issues that require practice and planning, such as cardiac arrest and traumatic injury.
Keep medical supplies handy. Teams should always have the proper medical supplies on site and available. This includes a first aid kit, general supplies and an automated external defibrillator. Be prepared for anything. Early in the season especially, it is important to have a tub or something to fill with water and ice in case of heat illness.
Get your coaches trained through Heads Up Football. More than 1,100 high schools and nearly 70 percent of U.S. youth football organizations enrolled in USA Football’s Heads Up Football program in 2015. Heads Up Football is a comprehensive approach to teach and play the sport, encompassing coaching education, equipment fitting, tackling and blocking fundamentals, CDC-approved concussion recognition and response, sudden cardiac arrest protocols and heat preparedness and hydration. The program is endorsed by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, the Korey Stringer Institute and more than three dozen other leading organizations across medicine, sport and child advocacy.
Make sure the field is fit to play on. Public fields at schools and parks are used for many purposes and can be littered with garbage, glass and potholes. Taking a quick look at the field can protect athletes from something that is easily preventable.
Inspect the equipment being used by athletes. Having proper equipment is vital to the health and safety of athletes. When it comes to helmets, teams should have their helmets reconditioned regularly and checked periodically throughout the season.
Set aside time for athletes to hydrate. Regularly scheduled water breaks are a must, especially when it is hot outside. Coaches should also provide a separate water supply for players in case an athlete forgets or runs out of fluids.
Practice at a facility where there is a cell phone reception. Coaches need to be able to contact emergency assistance and parents anytime there is an emergency. Going out to the practice field and testing cell phone reception doesn’t take long.
Adapt to the level you’re coaching. Coaches, remember that this is youth football and tailor your coaching style so that athletes get the most out of the game. Limiting unnecessary contact and monitor intensity to make the experience more fun and lessen chances of injury.
Be aware of the mental capacity of youth athletes. Coaches have to do what is in the best interests of their athletes. They must take into account the weather, school events and other sports when developing a schedule. A main goal of youth sports is to keep athletes coming back. Overworking athletes can lead directly to burnout.
Encourage athletes to develop good nutrition habits. Getting the proper nutrients is always important, and for young athletes it is even more important to give developing muscles what they need to produce.