Guest column: NFHS sees merits of Heads Up Football program

By Bob Gardner, NFHS Executive Director

Sometimes, you don't know how dark it is until someone turns on a light.

Education is like that. It enables you to see more clearly, determine the best route.

My 44 years in secondary education as a teacher, coach, athletic director, principal, superintendent, state association director and executive director of the NFHS have affirmed this.

Education is the driving force of our work at the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), which leads high school athletic and performing arts activities involving more than 12 million high school students.

Football is undergoing an important behavior change for the better. One way in which this change is happening is through USA Football's Heads Up Football program for safer play and standards.

Rooted in education, Heads Up Football establishes significant standards for the well-being of our young athletes.

With strong support and endorsements from experts in medicine and athletics, USA Football's Heads Up Football program delivers coach certification, in-person coach training, safer tackling techniques, proper equipment fitting and vital protocols in concussion recognition and response as well as heat preparedness and hydration.

These elements should be part of every sport in which our young people participate. The NFHS is proud to partner with USA Football in support of Heads Up Football.

Every sport deserves trained and prepared coaches, an emphasis on fundamentals and techniques and the best information on player health matters to minimize risk of injury for young athletes. Heads Up Football fulfills these areas and holds relevancy for other sports.

This new approach, created and administered by USA Football, has advanced the concussion conversation from awareness to action -- showing a safer and smarter path to the sport's inherent benefits and rewards.

In partnership with our office and USA Football, 35 high schools spanning 10 states piloted Heads Up Football in 2013. All 15,000 U.S. high school football programs are eligible and encouraged to adopt the program this year.

Nearly 2,800 youth football programs, representing more than 25 percent of all U.S. youth leagues, are already committed to their young athletes through Heads Up Football and that number is expected to double this season.

I encourage high school and youth football program decision-makers to learn more about this important advancement in coaching education and player safety by visiting

Bob Gardner is the executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) and a member of USA Football's board of directors. Since 1920, the NFHS has led the development of education-based interscholastic sports and activities that help students succeed in their lives. The organization sets direction for the future by improving the participation experience, establishing consistent standards and rules for competition and helping those who oversee high school sports and activities.

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