Starting on August 1, 2013 more than 275,000 enthusiastic young football players in Pop Warner leagues across the country will gather for their first practice of the season.
This weekend, the National Football League will kick off its preseason with the annual Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio. Many NFL players, coaches and executives have fond memories of first playing in a hometown Pop Warner league.
Pop Warner is a name synonymous with youth football. Dating back to 1929, Pop Warner embodies the values of football that have benefited many generations of young people. Players have learned life-long values of teamwork, discipline and perseverance in a Pop Warner league.
Over the years, the experience of learning to work together, to be part of something bigger than themselves, has led so many of these young athletes to achieve success on and off the field.
That's why we're launching a partnership between the NFL and Pop Warner to endorse USA Football's Heads Up Football program. More than 20,000 Pop Warner coaches will be trained to teach the latest techniques and make the game safer for hundreds of thousands of young players.
Heads Up Football, developed by USA Football with the support of the NFL in 2012, provides a better, safer way to teach and play the game. It makes the game safer by teaching players to keep their heads up and out of the line of contact, training and certifying coaches on the fundamentals of safety, appointing Player Safety Coaches for every youth league to enforce safety protocols, ensuring proper equipment fitting, and teaching coaches, parents and players how to recognize and treat a concussion under protocols from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
More than 200 Pop Warner leagues will adopt Heads Up Football immediately, and hundreds of additional leagues will follow suit in 2014. In the area of concussion awareness, Pop Warner has been a leader in youth sports by introducing a dedicated concussion rule, limiting contact in practice and banning head-to-head contact, and this partnership is a logical next step.
Today, we know a lot more about how to make the game safer, so that our kids can enjoy all the rewards of football, with less risk. We know that you tackle with your shoulder, not your head, to help prevent head injuries. And, we know that injured players get out of the game, instead of playing through it. Our challenge is to ensure that every league, no matter how big or small, knows these things too.
Heads Up Football is taking root in the culture of our game as the gold standard for better, safer play. With this program, and many other initiatives, we are collectively creating a new culture of safety at every level of the game. And we encourage coaches, trainers, parents and players to join us.
Football is America's most popular sport. Families all over the country are rooting for their teams – from Pop Warner to high school, college and professional football. As leaders in this sport, we share a responsibility to make the game safer. Every day, we put a premium on doing everything we can to improve safety.
USA Football's Heads Up Football is the way forward for this generation of young football players and those who will take the field on the first of August every year. The NFL and Pop Warner stand committed to strengthening youth football through a better, safer game.
Roger Goodell is commissioner of the National Football League. Jon Butler is executive director of Pop Warner Little Scholars.