By Bill Bradley, contributing editor
Buddy Curry, the 1980 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, teaches football to the next generation. Curry says he has trained more than 13,000 youth football players through his non-profit organization, Kids & Pros, a character and clinic-based program that shows how the game can help kids.
Almost two years ago, Curry combined Kids & Pros with his work as one of the original Master Trainers for USA Football's Heads Up Football program, which teaches safer techniques to youth players. He has been one of the program's busiest Master Trainers, teaching clinics all around Georgia and working with the Atlanta Falcons, who have been active in Heads Up Football. Through that work he has been promoted to an Ambassador for USA Football.
As part of the USA Football Month, Curry talked to NFL Evolution about his past 1 1/2 years working with Heads Up Football, what it means to him and what parents are saying about the USA Football program.
You might be one of the busiest Master Trainers since you started with USA Football. How many Heads Up Football clinics have you conducted?
Kids & Pros is a 13-year-old organization. It started out as a for-profit, but now we're a non-profit. But the past two years, all of our events we've incorporated with the Heads Up tackling program. So, if you figure we had about 25 events last year, and another 23 so far this year with another five or six clinics to go, that's a bunch of clinics and a lot of travel. You can add them up better than I can.
How have these dovetailed into your non-profit youth training organization?
We're a licensed partner with USA football. Because I'm a Master Trainer and an Ambassador, we're able to use the same tackling circuit that we teach to the player safety coaches. What that means is we're able to teach the correct technique ... and we've also incorporated a parental information session that has been piloted by the Atlanta Falcons. We've been all through the state of Georgia with the Falcons to teach parent clinics, which are hour-long events that teach correct helmet/shoulder pad fitting, concussion awareness and protocol and the Heads Up tackling circuit. ...
The other thing we do is try to get the youth coaches out of the stands and on the field so they can actually "rep" the drills. You have to train the trainers. And these are the guys that are getting certified once a year and spending the time with the league coaches. I think in the future we want to really focus on the coaches and help them be the best they can be. A lot of these guys, they're dads or volunteers so they can be part of their son's life. They find out it's a lot more complicated than basketball or other sports. The first thing they need to tell us is why they're coaching. If it's because they want to be with their son or win championships, that's probably not the best reason. They need to teach and coach so they can help these young kids to learn and love competition, and love football -- or whatever sport they're coaching --and then teach the kids about life through the sport. That's one of the main reasons I enjoy doing this because football builds such a foundation for healthy living and doing the right things. It built the right principles for me and I want to pass that onto other people.
What is a success story you have heard since incorporating the Heads Up Football program?
When we have our parents' information sessions, we've had parents coming in waves to say, "I was really concerned about having my son play. But you know what? I'm going to let him play now. I feel more comfortable with letting him play." That's one of the things. Another things is with the kids. With them, you never know when that light is coming on. These kids are going through the drills with NFL players teaching them and high school coaches teaching them. At the end of these sessions, we have what we call a "game-changer," in which one or two of the NFL players talk about their life experience. We have five core principles: sportsmanship, integrity, excellence, perseverance and teamwork. Every (NFL player) has a story and when they share their story and they're transparent about it. They tell these kids how they made it through the challenges of life. Hopefully, most of them were good decisions, but if they weren't good decisions, they tell the kids to learn from their successes and failures. We've had parents come back and say their kids are doing better in school; they're minding them better; they're being a better friend. ... That's another big part of helping these kids really learn to love the game of football.
What are some of the hurdles you've faced in trying to teach Heads Up Football?
I don't know that we've had hurdles. ... For some people, we coach the way we were coached. When you present some coaches with something that they think might work, sometimes they really don't believe it because it's going to cause them to learning something new and cause them to get out of their comfort zone. We'll get some slight resistance from coaches. But the way we conduct our events, we'll have a coaches meeting with an orientation beforehand and try to tell them what we're about and how we want them to learn these techniques and rep them every day in practice. Let's practice them here and correct the kids and coach them hard. "Coaching hard" means caring enough to make sure the kid does it right in an encouraging manner.
What are moms and dads saying to you after they attend some of the clinics?
That they love it. That they're more comfortable with the game. They understand it better and feel like they can be part of the solution. They understand how to fit helmets and shoulder pads. They know what to do if there's a concussive event and they need to take charge. It's their child out there. They also can encourage their coaches and their associations to go with USA Football because everybody can be reading out of the same handbook and we can be teaching the same technique to these coaches, who get certified and trained.
The Atlanta Falcons seem to be one of the most active NFL teams in the Heads Up Football program. How has that helped your job?
When you have an NFL team that is leading the charge and we come along side as partner, it really helps. We conduct the event, but they run the organization of the event and the registration. ... Some of our events are Falcons-themed and some are Kids & Pros-themed, but as long as we're in the state of Georgia we're doing it as partners everywhere together. The great thing about the Falcons, this is front-and-center from their community relations (department) and their foundation. They want to make a difference at the grassroots level, which is really the youth level and the middle school level and the high schools level.
You've been on the front lines longer than most Master Trainers. What do you see as the future of the program?
I see us getting more penetration among the youth coaches. The first couple years, you've got to get the word out there so people know what you're doing. When you're talking about so many football associations, it's scary how some of these coaches get to coach. When you're new, it's going to be a process getting to the actual people who are making a difference. ... Now, let's look at the quality. Quality coaches are coaching it right. Are we giving them the support they need to be able to be a quality coach? Are they confident enough to know how to develop a practice plan? Are they encouraging the players where the kids are having fun?