Smarter play means safer play

LIHUE — The game of football will always be rough and tough. But tweaks can be made to limit the harm.

“It’s about us taking the time and being smarter. We don’t want want to change the way we play the game. We don’t want to change the intensity of the game,” said USA Football master trainer Terry Summerfield. “That’s the hallmark of the game. But what we need to do is be smarter about how we tackle and be smarter about making the head do continuous contact. Make it a better game for the kids.”

USA Football, the national governing body of amateur football including youth and high school, hosted a Heads Up Football coaches safety clinic Saturday morning at Kauai High School’s gymnasium.

“What we try to do is address some of the concerns that we have in the game to try to make it better and safer, especially in relation to concussions and injury prevention,” Summerfield said. “Can’t eliminate injuries. It’s going to happen because it’s a combative sport. But there are a lot of things we can do as coaches to try to reduce those injuries — especially concussions. We’re doing everything we can to teach tackling in a way that we can reduce the amount of helmet-to-helmet contact.”

Ten coaches and administrators representing the five associations of Kauai Pop Warner Football — Kapaa, Lihue, Koloa, Hanapepe and Kekaha — were present for the clinic.

“It’s some stuff we heard before, but they reiterate it in a good way. It made us relate to it better,” said Kauai Pop Warner commissioner Bryan Aiwohi, who was present at the clinic at Kauai High.

“Also, they brought up a lot of new stuff. It’s what we want — innovation,” Aiwohi continued. “Anytime we can learn techniques that make things safer and easier to teach, and makes it easier on kids, we want to know and we want our coaches to know.”

Summerfield went over several coaching techniques and means of coaching safer youth football — including equipment fitting, concussion recognition and response, heat stroke and sudden cardiac arrest protocols, and on-field tackling and blocking fundamentals.

Summerfield also will lead clinics this week on Big Island, Oahu and Maui.

“It’s about us getting into the communities and working with the high school coaches and youth coaches across the country, and showing them there are good ways. There are good ways to try to reduce injuries in the game of football,” said Summerfield, who also coaches football at Barlow High School in Gresham, Oregon.

“I will say this: The benefits outweigh the risks. There’s so much young people can gain, young men and women, from the game of football — discipline, working as teammates, dealing with adversity when you’re knocked down and having to work with struggles, and communication,” Summerfield said. “It teaches you life skills. Those benefits outweigh the risks. But are there things in relation to the risks that we can improve on? Yes, there are.”

Aiwohi said Kauai Pop Warner will hold another clinic for the league’s coaches on July 16, using what was learned Saturday. Conditioning will begin on July 18, in which the coaches will work with the youth players with the techniques they’ve learned. The Kauai Pop Warner regular season starts in August.

“Part of the meeting will be run by Positive Coaching Alliance, and then the rest of the meeting is run by us. Just going over a whole bunch of stuff,” he said. “We want to make sure the people we put in front of those kids, the people who teach those kids, they have the right mindset.”

Also in attendance Saturday was Kauai High varsity football head coach Derek Borrero, who is an assistant coach with the Lihue Patriots Pop Warner program.

“Basically, it was heavy-duty on safety. Even though the subject of concussions is a huge subject, the kids are still coming out because they enjoy what they see on TV, or their day played, or their cousins play,” Borrero said. “If you ask me, the numbers haven’t decreased because of concussions. For us as coaches, we have the responsibility of constantly learning whatever new science or techniques is out there so we can keep our kids safe and healthy so they can enjoy the game.”

Summerfield said changes to the higher levels of football will happen in time, helped in part by measures like these clinics.

“It’s going to to take some time. But sometimes, in some communities, it’s immediate. That’s by having the right kind of leadership in place,” he said. “It’s going to take some time because you’re dealing with a culture where the head was so much a part of the game for many years. It’s going to take some time, and we recognize it. We understand it.”

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