More than 400 moms of young football players from across Ohio came to Columbus this week for a football safety clinic. Women with kids at all levels of the sport, from flag football to high school, attended the event at Ohio State’s Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
Groups rotated through the indoor facility in sessions that included the proper way equipment should fit. Other sessions dealt with concussion awareness, heat, hydration and nutrition – but the most lively demonstration was a session led by USA Football’s Andy Ryland in the middle of the practice field. Ryland and Ohio State assistants offered encouragement to the the moms as they learned the five fundamentals of tackling.
The NFL and the NFL Players Association established USA Football in 2002. The Heads Up Football teaching method began as a pilot program last year to help make youth football safer. Among those attending this week’s clinic at Ohio State was NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who said the program reached 2,800 youth leagues this year and 80,000 coaches.
He says he wants to reach all of the estimated 10,000 youth football leagues. But this one at Ohio State focused only on moms. Goodell said there’s a good reason for that.
“It’s a very important thing to be able to communicate and have that open dialogue, and, again, that’s what USA football is all about – inviting the parents in and making sure that dialogue is there,” he said. “The game of football is a tough game, and we love that aspect of it, but it can be played safely, and that’s what the emphasis is today.”
Another tough issue for some parents – the relationship and interactions with the coach. Another session at the clinic titled “Engaging With Your Kids’ Coaches” featured St. Xavier High School Football Coach Steve Specht.
“So how do you encourage your sons to know that … we want them to be safe? That’s our job as their mom,” one mother asked. “So how do you encourage, you know, parents, and moms especially, to be able to have those conversations with our kids and with those coaches to say, ‘You know what, this isn’t safe’ or ‘We really need to do this?’”
“I think … communication is the biggest issue,” Specht said. “I like those parents because they love their son, because they care. And so I answer questions all day long. I would bother that head coach all day long.”
Facilitator Christine Golic — wife of former NFL player Mike Golic and a mother of two sons who have played the game at high levels — recognizes that there’s a different dynamic when it’s your kid.
“God bless my husband, I love him and everything, but when you’re a mom, and you’re watching your kid out there, you’re worried about him getting hurt much more than your husband,” she said. “You just feel like they’ve got it under control, and your kid — that’s your kid. I think to take some of the mystery out of it helps mothers.”
The day concluded with Goodell and Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer fielding questions from the moms.
“Other than clinics like this, how do we get the dads and the people running those programs to enforce these regulations that you guys have done for your guys?” one mother asked.
“You know, I do believe that what we do at the higher levels affects all levels of football,” Goodell said. “When they see that the changes we’re making – whether it’s rules, techniques, how we deal with injuries – they’re going to take that, and they’re going to learn from that.”
And many of the women attending the clinic left ready to do that.
“I feel like coming out here maybe gave us or some other moms more confidence,” one mother said.
“I think the credibility factor with moms coming out here to something like this,” another said. “We do. We have something to back it up, say, ‘You know, Urban Meyer has stood by this and said this. You want to call him right now and say, ‘Hey Coach, you’re wrong?’ because I’m pretty sure he knows what he’s talking about.”
“I feel a lot more confident about my son playing football,” added another attendee. “I feel like I have a knowledge base that I didn’t have before I came in here. I’m really excited to watch [my son] now, and I feel like I know more now. I feel like I can actually impress my son when I go home, and I’m totally going to do it tonight.”
“You’re going to go home and tackle him?” I asked.
“Absolutely,” she said.