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Denver Broncos Parent Safety Clinic

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So I went to the Denver Broncos Parent Safety Clinic last night. My youngest is 19 and no longer plays competitive sports, so I went as a coach mainly to see what message is being put forth and to see if I might learn something. The cost was $10 and included a meal that was worth close to that. The bummer was that tickets had to be purchased through Ticketmaster and they got their $2.50, of course.

I'd say there were roughly 130 parents in attendance and they expected 160.

The Broncos:
Made the stadium available
Provided a meal
Made their 3 Lombardi trophies available for selfies
Thoroughly staffed the event
Provided 2 players for demos
Held a raffle at the end with some nice giveaways

There was a 10 minute orientation that laid out what was taking place, ground rules, etc. The local celebrity MC noted that this was the first year that dads were invited. Apparently there were prior years where it was "moms only". Parents (and me) were sorted in to 4 "teams" of about 30 each. There were four "stations" that lasted about 30 minutes. One "team" attended one station at a time.

Heads Up Tackling
Coach Wayne Voorhees did a clinic on heads up tackling. It was surprisingly good. The "breast plate" tackling method is no more. He emphasizes shoulder tackling with an aiming point of near shoulder to near number. He doesn't tell them where to put their head. Depends on leverage.

First drill was how to "break down", or get into a "hit" position.
- Stomp feet (gets feet shoulder width apart)
- Touch shoulder blades  - arms back and straight (opens front of shoulder to contact, gets head up, chest out)
- Sink - drop hips
- Hands - get hands in a "holster" position

Second drill was "come to balance"
- take a "hit" position on "break down"
- buzz feet over a half round placed length wise between the feet on "go"
- stop at the end of the dummy with one foot slightly forward in the "hit" position
I was surprised that I couldn't help but lean forward at the end. Clearly my balance needs work. Weird since I play hockey twice a week.

Third drill, we repeated the second, but took 5 steps back and sprinted to the half round before "coming to balance"

Fourth drill was the hip extension, flop on your belly drill onto a half round. I'd like feed back from other coaches who use this drill. Any benefits?

Last drill was a "rip" drill where you uppercut your arms through a horizontal half round and run away with it. Coach Voorhees explained that the upward rip and (eventually) grab cloth allows a tackler to use the front of the shoulder rather than the top and helps keep the head up. The horizontal "wrap" stresses the top of the shoulder and tends to let the head drop. I'm not 100% sold, but I'm intrigued enough to look into it further. Again, I'd like feed back from you guys.

Next station was on concussions. Not a lot of new stuff (to me) in this one. This was put on by a concussion specialist (MD) from Childrens' Hospital a High School athletic trainer. Key takeaways:
- MD concussion specialist in no way discouraged parents from letting their kids play football. He actually talked about the benefits of sports in general and football in particular. He pointed out that some kids would not play sports at all without football and said he'd rather see them play than sit at home.
- Both pointed out that no helmet will prevent a concussion and that the most expensive helmet on the market provides only marginally better protection than the cheapest.
- Both pointed out that mouth pieces do nothing for concussions and cited a study that showed an increase in concussions among players with professionally fitted mouth pieces.
- The MD stated that more research is missing, but there may be a genetic component to the likelihood of concussions.

Third station was injury prevention and repetitive motion injuries. Not much to write home about here. Rest, nutrition, sleep. Interesting takeaways:
- kids with sore joints are often much different than adults with sore joints. Adults get sore from tendinitis, where with kids, it can easily be growth plate issues like Osgood Schlatter's. So if a kid says his knee is sore from running around, might be worth getting him checked out.
- ankle braces have been shown to reduce the incidence of ankle sprains, but not the severity
- knee braces have been shown to reduce both incidence and severity of Collateral (outside the knee) injuries, but don't do much for cruciate injuries.

Last station was helmet/shoulder pad fitting given by the Broncos equipment manager. The part about gear selection was great for parents, but not for coaches in my and Mahonz' situation. Our club does not provide gear, so kids show up wearing whatever Mom and Dad bought. Also, the Broncos have dozens of brands, models and sizes to choose from. Parents often have to pick from what's available in the store. The section on checking helmet fit was pretty good:
- Helmet should "hug" the head all the way around. Feedback from the player is important.
- Helmet should cover the occipital lobe in the back and the front pads should be about an inch above the eyebrows
- Have the player nod his head up and down while you hold the helmet. You should see the skin move.
- Have the player rotate his head left to right while you hold the helmet. Again, you should see the skin move.
- A player who complains of a headache from wearing his helmet isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially early in the season. Look for pad marks on the forehead that are visible a few minutes after taking the helmet off (Peyton Manning).

He then went on about shoulder pads, demonstrating how to measure the distance between AC joints. Have the player face away from you and make a "T" with his arms. Measure between the dimples. In the front, the pads should cover the sternum. In the back, they should cover the shoulder blades. Under the epaulets, the main pad should cover the AC joints and there should be a one finger gap between the skin and the pad. In the top front, the pads should cover the collar bones, but shouldn't squeeze the neck.

Key takeaways:
- He stated that there is no helmet that will prevent a concussion
- He stated that no manufacturer is significantly better or worse than any other

What I thought was missing from the entire clinic:
- The message that is going out from the NFL and/or USA Football to prospective parents. My message to prospective parents is that the decision whether or not to allow your child to play football is a personal one and that neither decision is wrong. Just understand that there is a lot of misinformation out there, so do your own research and check your sources.
- Changing the culture around football. That could and should have been addressed in the context of making the game safer. The behavior has changed a great deal in the 10 years that I've been coaching. Head down, cheap hits are getting more and more rare and coaches who allow them are more often being held accountable (Chavarria, e.g.,). What's still missing is the culture among parents and fans. Comments from POTUS about the NFL being "soft". Reactions from fans when a personal foul is called. That needs to go away. I myself need to re-evaluate and decide if I want to keep teaching "hit to hurt", or at least stop using those words.  I know that I'm not teaching anything unsafe, but parents don't know that.

Anyway, nice to see the Broncos involved, but nothing earth shattering and nothing that will turn around the current participation trend.

When in doot . . . glass and oot.