ORLANDO, Fla. - The NFL Foundation is giving USA Football a five-year, $45 million grant to expand the already burgeoning Heads Up Football program that teaches safe tackling to youngsters.
Foundation Chair Charlotte Jones Anderson announced the grant Monday at the league's owners meetings after the NFL saw the early success of the program. Heads Up Football had nearly 2,800 youth football organizations teaching it during its first year, more than five times early projections.
Heads Up Football is designed to "take the head out of tackling" and employs master trainers who teach it to coaches throughout the nation. Those coaches in turn instruct youth football players — about 600,000 in 2013.
Funds also will be used to increase NFL flag football league for boys and girls ages 5-17
"There is a need for information and education," Anderson said. "And we can really have a chance to do something very significant here by having a loud voice and a large presence, and developing a great program to make a difference in youth sports safety.
"It is about showing people there is a correct way to play sports, so your children will be safe and will benefit. You can't replace what children learn from teamwork, respecting coaches, taking direction, being able to be part of a team and learning to deal with success and failure. You can't learn that in the classroom."
USA Football, the sport's national governing body, developed Heads Up Football in an effort to unite a fragmented sport on the youth level through a coaching technique based on safety. The NFL helped fund the launch.
The significant infusion of money will allow USA Football to increase its stable of master trainers of Heads Up Football from about 30 to nearly 100. It also will help as the organization rolls out a similar program for high schools. About 15,000 high schools play the sport, encompassing 1.12 million athletes.
"Any time there is more investment in player-safety course training, it's beneficial," said Scott Hallenbeck, USA Football's executive director. "What is exciting is one of the key things we focus on is consistency of technique and terminology, which is a pretty important step toward a safer game. If a kid is taught consistently from 10 years old up to high school, that is tremendously important and a dramatic improvement in how football is taught."
Hallenbeck said that in addition to the NFL his group works closely with the NCAA and major college conferences.
"For them to see all of these different stakeholders involved makes them want to be participating," he said. "It gives everyone from commissioners to coaches a real sense of legitimacy when they have decided to do something other than the norm."