Young boys recently converged at the Soboroff Sports Field at the Expo Center, with the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as the backdrop. While most youth football players lace up their cleats and practice in shirts and shorts during this time of year, these kids strapped on the pads.
These young players were participating in the Falcons Youth and Family Services annual football camp, which runs for 11 weeks. Administered by coaches from the Falcons Football and Cheer Program, it is open to all children, regardless of the football program that they play for.
This year’s camp is not about building a better football player, it is about building a safer football player. Many people would assume that would mean limiting the contact, but the opposite is actually true, according to Keith Johnson, president of the organization.
One major issue is that training camp typically begins on Aug. 1, with players performing two weeks of conditioning without pads. A week after putting on the pads, most teams are having their first live scrimmages against other teams, and the season begins a couple weeks after that. That does not give the coaches much time to teach the children how to safely play tackle football.
“The real challenge is to make sure that the kids have enough time to learn effective tackling,” Johnson said. “To adjust to the weight of the equipment, especially the helmet and feel comfortable in the gear. When you start on August 1, it puts a tremendous amount of pressure on that kid, as well as that coach. He doesn’t have time to properly teach, to properly assess, he doesn’t have time to incorporate those lessons being learned. And that can create an unsafe environment for that child.”
This camp gives the children an opportunity to get acclimated and the coach time to teach him the proper skill sets, which will increase the safety. The program teaches “Heads Up” tackling, which is promoted by NFL Play 60. All of the coaches in the program are Heads Up certified.
As the weeks progress, there will be more hitting after the children learn how to properly and safely perform a tackle. Johnson’s overall goal is to take the childrens’ heads out of the tackle to limit the risk of injury. With the players learning these safer techniques at an earlier stage of the year, when they get to training camp during the fall, the coaches will not have as much pressure to prepare the players for the season.
It is not too late to sign up for the camp, but there are limited spots available. For more information, email email@example.com, or call Johnson at (323) 864-8781.