NFL Roundtable: Youth Sports Safety

When the NFL emailed and invited me to their Roundtable regarding youth sports and safety, I researched the sender first as I totally thought it was a prank one of my friends was playing. I love sports and although I did not get the opportunity to play while growing up, I am definitely encouraging the frog princess to participate in organized sports. As I type this, she is practicing her 3-point shot inside the house and I just got teary-eyed because she made it!  She is 3 going on 4 and her safety is of the utmost importance to me.

My head's still spinning from all of the info I learned last week. So much to think about when it comes to youth sports. But I left the meeting feeling hopeful that these organizations were doing all they could to protect our youth.

The first thing I learned? Not all organizations are equal. And by that I mean that not every youth baseball team belongs to The Little League. And the soccer team may not necessarily be a part of US Youth Soccer. You probably knew that but, I was surprised to hear that wasn't the case.

I was reminded that, as with everything, parents must take an active role in extracurricular activities, do their research and ask the questions.  While concussions was a major topic of discussion with Dr. Elizabeth Pieroth, Consultant and Neuropsychologist, leading the way in the informative conversation, there are many other injuries that take place in sports and many different ways in which those injuries occur.  As Dr. Pieroth reminded us, concussions don't just happen on the football field.

The other participants:

What i Learned:

Mr. Inzerello spoke about Heads Up Football and how it incorporates coaching certification, CDC concussion recognition and response protocols, Heads Up Tackling (taking the head out of the game), proper helmet and shoulder pad fitting and appointment of a player safety coach, trained by USA football for each participating organization.

I love the idea of getting the coaches certified. I know that at times the job might go to a dedicated parent but I think that certification is a great thing as it relates to the safety of our kids. I loved seeing that USA Football is responsible for more than 100,000 youth coaches educated spanning all 50 states. I definitely know what I'll be looking for when the girl goes to play football (notice I said when, she's already told me she would). To date, through their Heads Up Football, 2,100 organizations are registered, 62,000 coaches have been trained and 430,000 players have been impacted by the work they have done.

Mr. Keener, of Little League Baseball, made a BIG impression on me. At the end, during the Q&A, he was asked what would be the number one thing he would tell parents in order to protect their children from injury. Without missing a beat, he said parents have to be vigilant of sexual predators. Having done one of my final papers on the scandal at Penn State, I can tell you this is a BIG one in sports.  This is perhaps why Little League provides each of their teams with 125 free criminal background checks in order to ensure the safety of their athletes.

I was happy that with us discussing sports injuries, someone was right there with this important issue. Mr. Keener also mentioned that they were working on specific helmets for pitchers. He also spoke about addressing the use of performance enhancing drugs as well as chewing tobacco.

My takeaway with regards to equipment was that every sport needs different equipment for very specific reasons. I always thought: protection is protection but that is not the case because each sport is played differently.

The presentation by Kevin McLaughlin was an interesting one. Educating the public in the difference between adult hockey which is entertainment versus the sport itself at the youth level. They are focused on age-appropriate guidelines and ensuring that kids are well-rounded athletes, encouraging them to play other sports as well as hockey.

USA Basketball brought with it the realization that even though over 700 tournaments will take place nationwide, less than 20 are overseen by the AAU. I was surprised to hear that many people are making money with traveling leagues in different sports without the supervision of these organizations and that's a little scary.

Ann Carpenetti educated us on Lacrosse and how it is the fastest growing sport in the US. US Lacrosse oversees all Lacrosse in the US from youth to professional. There's a need for different equipment for me and women because the sport has different rules for each game. With 75% of its players being youth athletes, this organization is committed to improving their game and safety for their players.

"The youth level is where we can make the most meaningful changes," Carpenetti said. "We have great opportunities but also great challenges."

I was happy to see representation from USA Cheer and a clear acknowledgement by their presence that Cheerleading is gaining the respect it deserves as a sport.  With no standardization at the youth level, USA Cheer faces a challenge in that but also a great opportunity for improvement as they run safety training and education for coaches.

Last and certainly not least, US Youth Soccer who are the largest youth sports organization in America.  They are actually part of the United States Soccer Federation as well as FIFA. They offer athletes progressive development programs based on age and skill.

One surprise speaker was Roger Goodell who stopped by to look in on the presentations and express the importance of youth sports safety to the group.

Comish

I am grateful for the many takeaways from this roundtable and hope to continue to bring you more info as there was much more to share. Personally, I appreciated that these national organizations are banding together to learn from one another and to ensure the safety of our children.  I cannot wait for the girl to start playing sports.

Here's my list of things to keep in mind when "shopping" for a sports organization:

  1. Are they part of one of the national organizations?
  2. Are the coaches certified?
  3. What are the policies in place in order to protect your child against predators?
  4. Do you know who is running the league?
  5. Have your questions been answered?

I'm sure there are more but this is a good start. Tell me, are your kids involved in sports and do you know if their league is part of one of the national organizations?

PS: as I was leaving, I couldn't help but drool eye some of the most treasured items in the NFL. Yes, I had to wipe away a few tears as I stared at the Vince Lombardi trophy as well as at some of the Super Bowl rings. I'm not ashamed! It was a beautiful thing.