Commissioner Corner: Ways to Improve Player Safety

By Quinn Ursprung | Posted 7/21/2020

USA Football creates resources to help leagues like yours year-round.

Commissioner Corner is a blog series tailored for organization leaders featuring advice for leagues, from leagues across a variety of topics.

When it comes to youth sports, including football, player safety needs to be the No. 1 priority. Understanding and implementing forward-thinking player safety techniques help deliver a positive and enjoyable football experience to youth athletes and their families and can contribute to them returning to your program for years to come.

Below are perspectives from both a youth league leader and a high school football coach on how they prioritize player safety. Here’s what they had to say…


What are some steps your organization takes to improve player safety?

“At Bert Bell, we start practice on August 1 with heat acclimatization. During this time, they wear only t-shirts and shorts. As they progress, we allow helmets and shoulder pads but no hitting.  We have a hydration policy of water breaks every 15 minutes. Our hydration policy carries through during August because of the heat. After the first week, if high heat and humidity are present, we will have practices without pads and will decrease the length of practice.”

“We have a policy for a medical presence to be at all practices and all games, requiring an EMT or higher to be present. We have an injury report system that requires all injuries to be reported at the time of injury. The report is on our website and must be completed after every practice and game. Also, each club is required to have an emergency action plan for all their sites. A copy of this plan is filed with the league, posted at all club sites, and given to parents. Each club is required to inform their parents of all safety policies in place.”

Judy Hahn // Vice President // Bert Bell Memorial Football Conference (PA)

“An approach to improve player safety we utilize is to conduct coaching meetings each day to ensure that we are doing everything possible to keep our athletes safe while putting them in the best situations to be successful. Examples of topics covered in our coaching meetings are practice organization and structure, offensive/defensive schedule, special teams plan, as well as position-specific drills. These meetings give us the foundation we need as a coaching staff to continue the safe and efficient culture that we have established with our players.”

Phillip Gibson // Special Teams Coordinator & WR Coach // Waco Connally HS(TX)


Why do you prioritize player safety?

“Player safety has always been a priority at Bert Bell, but when the numbers started to decrease, we knew we had to step up to the plate and do everything we could to make it even safer. No. 1 was to make sure that the parents knew what we were doing and that we were going to make football as safe for their children as we possibly could. We got the information out through our website, clubs sent it out to their parents and we even got things out to the press. To us, there is nothing more important than the safety of all our players, cheerleaders, and staff to maintain football as a sport for our youth.”

Judy Hahn // Vice President // Bert Bell Memorial Football Conference (PA)

“As a coach, I believe that to create a safer environment for our athletes, our efforts must go beyond the field. I do this by teaching athletes how to have a competitive edge at everything they do. I teach my athletes that they must take care of themselves on and off the field. This includes the classroom, their relationships with their family, friends, and teammates, as well as their overall health.”

Phillip Gibson // Special Teams Coordinator & WR Coach // Waco Connally HS (TX)


Do you provide resources or education to parents, players, and coaches on safety? If so, how did you find these and where can other leagues look?

“When USA Football came out with the Heads Up Football program, we were one of the first in line to implement it. All players are taught [proper blocking, defeating blocks and tackling] techniques, and in each of our clubs, we have player safety coaches. We do background checks on all coaches and volunteers that have contact with the children and have policies as to what we will accept or reject a coach for.”

“Another thing we have done is to put the 7-on-7 form of the game into our system. We use it for 6- and 7-year-olds and it has been a great success.”

Judy Hahn // Vice President // Bert Bell Memorial Football Conference (PA)

“At the beginning of each season, we have a parent meeting for the high school and junior high before we start fall practice. We present a PowerPoint to the parents/guardians, which maps out the season and our program’s expectations for the athletes. This helps create trust with your players’ parents, have them buy into your program, and let them know that you are here to do everything you can to help their child succeed as a student-athlete. Personally, I have attended USA Football’s National Conference and the Texas High School Coaches Association clinic. Each of these clinics provides coaches opportunities to learn and grow the game of football.”

Phillip Gibson // Special Teams Coordinator & WR Coach // Waco Connally HS (TX)


What kind of advice would you share with league leaders that are looking to improve player safety?

“A lot of our policies have come with experience over the years and from other leagues. A great source for me has been attending USA Football’s National Conference and the roundtable discussions with the other leagues in attendance. We also have gotten a lot of policies and ideas from USA Football. I would suggest that all leagues reach out to each other for their policies and procedures. There is no better way to learn than from each other.”

Judy Hahn // Vice President // Bert Bell Memorial Football Conference (PA)

“Make sure you set high expectations for your coaches. Focus on the fundamentals: how to get in a proper stance, player alignment, and tackling daily. Be positive, have fun, and focus on effort, attitude, and toughness.”

Phillip Gibson // Special Teams Coordinator & WR Coach // Waco Connally HS (TX)



Do you have insights to share that can help youth football across the country? Submit your thoughts and you could be featured in the next Commissioner Corner blog.