Phoenix Union working to make football safer
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Phoenix Union working to make football safer

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  • Craig Pletenik/Phoenix Union High School District

Photo Courtesy Phoenix Union HIgh School District

Phoenix Union High School District is making football safer for its student athletes by implementing a comprehensive football safety instructional program called Safe Football at all ten football schools.

Safe Football, founded by former ASU and NFL lineman Scott Peters, will train every football coach and player in the District annually over the next three years.  Through proper technique training, players can avoid serious injuries, such as concussions.

Players and coaches will learn the Safe Football techniques, from pre-snap stance to the point of impact for blocking, engaging blockers, tackling and tackle avoidance, without using their helmet as a tool for contact.

Peters developed the program in 2009 and has worked with over 400 teams, including college and professional.   He worked with the University of Washington in 2012-13, and while the Huskies improved dramatically both offensively and defensively, it was in the training room where the real results were realized.  The players incurred no concussions or “stingers” for the entire season.

“The real goal is the reduction of injuries, but we have seen that that also correlates into higher performance,” Peters said.

While Phoenix Union Athletic Director Dr. Zack Muñoz isn’t predicting state championships yet, he sees great value in Phoenix Union working to make football safer IMG_06332-300x200the program.

“Many of our student-athletes didn’t play youth football, and come with limited knowledge of the game.  Improving their skill level at their positions with the right, safe techniques will prevent injuries that often come from inexperience,” Muñoz said.   “I have also been impressed with how our coaches have embraced this training.”

The inspiration for Safe Football actually came from a different sport.  After his playing days, Peters became involved in Mixed Martial Arts, and discovered that the football mantra of bigger, stronger, faster need not apply.

“I found that the martial arts athletes train differently.  They were not large men, and they didn’t even lift weights.  But they were powerful and efficient.   In the NFL and college football and even at lower levels, coaches always wanted athletes who were bigger, stronger and faster.  But the NFL and College football are not developmental leagues,” Peters said. “High school is where we want to develop these safe skills.”

Muñoz is combining Safe Football with soft shell gear from a company called RockSolid.  The District acquired the shoulder pads and soft helmets that allow players to practice safe techniques on non-contact days, and during the off-season.  RockSolid helped underwrite the Safe Football program.

“The Rocksolid soft shell shoulder pads will be used in conjunction Safe Football to educate the student athletes on proper blocking and tackling techniques to improve performance and decrease the risk for injury/concussion.  We aim to protect the student-athletes as well build a foundation of positive coaching, execution and team morale,” Rocksolid’s Craig Reddinger said.

Safe Football instructors start with three-hour clinics for coaches at the freshman, JV and varsity levels.  Following interactive demonstrations, the coaches are tested in their ability to re-teach the techniques and drills to receive certification.

The coaches’ clinics are followed by two-hour on-site player camps, led by Safe Football instructors.  Players are then taught Safe Football techniques through a series of fun, engaging and progressive drills designed to use the hands and shoulders, not the head, to apply and resist force on the field.

There is a longer-term goal for Peters and Safe Football in light of the recent medical evidence of health consequences related to helmet contact, including degenerative diseases of the brain, such as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).

“There are many parents out there that are not allowing their kids to play football anymore.  If we can make football safer, the game can sustain,” Peters said.