Big Ten Conference head coaches support the Football Development Model

By Samuel Teets | Posted 10/18/2023

USA Football recently continued its long-standing relationship with the Big Ten Conference by attending the conference’s 2023 Football Media Days held at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind. The quotes in this story were produced from a series of one-on-one sit-down interviews with the head football coaches responsible for programs in the Big Ten.  

The health and well-being of youth athletes, their families and communities is the utmost priority for USA Football. That’s why USA Football launched the Football Development Model (FDM). Developed in partnership with medical, child development, long-term athlete development and football subject matter experts, the FDM focuses on progressive skill instruction that teaches athletes age-appropriate skills and meets them at their current stage of development. 

Progressive development models like the FDM align with the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee’s long-term athlete development principles. The value of such a development process for young athletes isn’t lost on the Big Ten’s football head coaches, who acknowledge the importance of athletes learning age-appropriate fundamentals depending on their age, development and pathway to play.  

“It [a development model] is really important, especially when you’re talking about a sport that has a contact background. I think it’s important in any sport and anything you teach that you have a lesson plan and a progression of how you’re going to teach it from a foundation all the way up. I think it’s imperative. It’s great that USA Football is leading the way on this.” 

– James Franklin, Penn State University 

“A progressive foundational model is important for two reasons. Number one, to keep kids healthy. You don’t want them doing anything that they aren’t developmentally or physically ready for. Number two, you don’t want them to have a bad experience. You don’t want them entering at a point that they’re not ready for physically and then all of the sudden they lose the passion for the game.” 

– Matt Rhule, University of Nebraska 

“If we’re not building a progression model, even for Power Five, scholarship players, we’re failing our players. To build that progression at a young age is absolutely critical. It keeps the game safe, builds confidence within those who are playing the game, and it allows for continued development. An early progression model is the foundation that is essential for that continued development.” 

– David Braun, Northwestern University 

“I have two beautiful young daughters at home. Every year, they get a little bit better at what they do. It’s natural for kids to progress in their abilities as they get older. It’s important to make sure youth football players are being age-appropriate and taught the right things. We play a game that has a lot of contact, so making sure athletes are being taught the right things for their age is very important.”  

– Bret Bielema, University of Illinois 

“Our job as coaches is a lot like what teachers do in the classroom. When you look at early education in the classroom, it starts with really strong fundamentals in math and reading. Much like that, the importance of the fundamentals of blocking, tackling, catching, running and throwing being taught at an early age the right way is imperative for a player that wants to be in football as far as they can go.” 

– Mike Locksley, University of Maryland 

“I think it’s incredibly important. I did not play tackle football until eighth grade. For me personally, if I would have played tackle football when I was a third grade, I might not have fallen in love with the sport as much as I love it now. Some people could probably tackle in third grade and love it all the way through to the NFL. That's them. Everybody has their own needs, wants and experiences. Young people grow at different rates. I graduated high school at 150 lbs. let alone when I was a kid. I think the levels help based on the size of the young person, what they're ready for and the experience they have. Start them at different levels, ease into it and create that fun experience where they can really enjoy what the game is all about.” 

– P.J. Fleck, University of Minnesota